Employees of the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) will stage a three-day dharna in Delhi next month – beginning September 6 – to reiterate their demands of immediately allowing the telecom major to launch 4G services and clearance of dues by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
The demonstration call has been given by the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), days after a nationwide protest was staged by the BSNL employees against the Central Government’s latest move to put the assets of the telecom company up for monetisation.
Held under the aegis of BSNL Employees’ Union (BSNLEU), the demonstration saw protesting employees alleging that the move to hand over the assets to private players will deliver a “body blow” to the public sector telecom enterprise.
Earlier this week, the Narendra Modi–led Central Government unveiled a four-year National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), a framework for monetisation of government’s infrastructure assets. Under it, the transaction will involve the government transferring revenue rights to private players for a specified period in return for money upfront, without handing over the ownership in the projects. However, experts have said that the move is towards privatisation, in effect.
Pegged to generate six lakh crore rupees, the framework will include monetisation of assets in road, railways, power, mining, aviation, ports, warehouses, stadiums among other sectors. As for telecom, the Centre has identified 14,917 towers of BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), along with 2.86 lakh kms of Bharatnet’s Optic Fibres to be handed over to private players.
Animesh Mitra, president, BSNLEU told Newsclick on Monday that the latest decision by the Centre is the “beginning” of privatisation of BSNL and MTNL. “The employees have feared this for far too long now. All the talk of reviving government telecom companies turned out to be nothing but an eyewash,” he said.
Earlier, a revival plan was announced in October 2019 by the then Union Minister for Communications, Ravi Shankar Prasad, that targeted for the administrative allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL and debt restructuring, among other moves, to nurse back the “strategic” companies to profitability over the next few years.
Subsequently, nearly 80,000 employees were given the chance to opt for voluntary retirement later that year, ostensibly in a bid to reduce the wage bill of the company, as part of the revival plan. However, in the absence of realisation of other plans, the telecom employees allege that its financial revival remains a “distant dream.”
The employees have also alleged that the Centre is creating “conscious roadblocks” in the way of BSNL launching its 4G services. “BSNL was already trying to upgrade mobile towers to launch its 4G services. But now, with the plan to monetise them, the Centre has created another roadblock,” Mitra claimed on Monday. Currently, the BSNL which also maintains the MTNL network in Delhi and Mumbai, has nearly 68,000 tower locations.
Further, Mitra reasoned, along with with the monetisation of BharatNet’s Optical Fibre Network, the entire “high speed internet backbone of the country,” will be given to the private corporates. “The telecom employees are not at all in favour of this and will continue to protest against it,” he said.
Not just the employees, but even several political fronts have alleged that NMP is nothing but a plan to “sell” national assets, which will be “disastrous” for the country. “CAMOUFLAGED in jargon that speaks of ‘monetisation of de-risked assets’, the BJP-led NDA government has announced its plan to sell out India’s public sector,” the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) said in an editorial in its mouthpiece People’s Democracy.