Employees of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) staged a nationwide hunger strike on Wednesday, July 28, to reiterate their demands of achieving the “financial revival” of the state-run telecom company by way of immediate launching of its 4G services.
The employees’ bodies have maintained that, years after a plan to nurse back the “strategic” but heavily bleeding telecom companies—BSNL along with another state-owned telecom enterprise Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL)—to profitability was announced, the financial revival remains a “distant dream,” courtesy the “conscious roadblocks” created by the Narendra Modi-led Central Government.
Called by All Union and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), an umbrella body, Wednesday's protest saw employees from across the country abstaining from food, and taking part in the demonstrations.
Sebastin K, general secretary of Sanchar Nigam Executives’ Association, told Newsclick that the hunger strike was observed across all the states on Wednesday. “Due to the pandemic, participation in demonstrations was restricted and social distancing was observed. However, overall the hunger strike was successful,” he said.
The seven-point charter of demands of AUAB included immediate settlement of dues to BSNL, amounting to Rs 39,000 crore, by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), off-setting of BSNL’s debt through monetising its land, along with immediate launching of 4G services.
In absence of these, the employees’ associations argued, the decision to slash the company’s manpower via a voluntary retirement exercise carried out more than a year ago has only deepened the crisis.
Nearly 80,000 employees of BSNL have opted for the voluntary retirement offer put on the table for the telecom staffers in November 2019, ostensibly to reduce the wage bill of the company, as part of the revival plan of the public telecom enterprises.
The plan, announced in the month of October 2019 by the Union Minister for Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad, additionally targeted the administrative allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL and debt restructuring among others.
Moreover, the employees on Wednesday also staged a protest against the continuing delays in the disbursement of salaries. The salary for the month of June was delayed by over two weeks. In March 2019, a delay in salary payment for the permanent workforce in BSNL was reported for the first time.
BSNL Employees’ Union, a body that is part of AUAB, in a statement on Thursday said that the hunger strike of telecom employees was a “warning signal” to the Centre of the “serious struggles” that will be launched if prompt actions are not taken by the latter, “to settle the issues.” It said that the umbrella body will soon meet to decide about the future course of action.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, while answering a question asked about the steps taken by the Centre for the implementation of the revival plan of BSNL and MTNL during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, Minister of State for Communications Devusinh Chauhan told Lok Sabha that a letter of intent has been issued to five eligible bidders on July 1 this year, for their participation in BSNL’s upcoming 4G tender.
He added that assets of two companies have been identified for monetisation and instructions have been issued for mandatory utilization of capacities of BSNL and MTNL by all government departments and ministries.