Employees of public-sector telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) are staunchly opposing the BJP-led NDA government’s decision to hive off the firm’s mobile towers into a separate subsidiary company.
On December 12 and 13, all BSNL employees—executives and non-executives—across the country participated in a two-day nationwide strike. All unions of workers and employees’ associations related to BSNL supported the strike, as offices remained shut throughout the country.
Besides opposing the mobile tower subsidiary, the employees are also demanding wage revision as per the recommendations of 3rd Pay Revision Committee (PRC) for Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) employees.
On September 12, 2017, the Cabinet approved the creation of a subsidiary tower company for nearly all of BSNL’s mobile towers in the country.
The new subsidiary will concentrate solely on the business of tower-sharing with private telecom service providers — that is, renting the towers out to be used by the private companies.
The state-owned firm currently has more than 75,000 towers with Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), which provide different kinds of cellular (voice and data) services, across the country.
BSNL is already sharing its towers with private companies in many areas. A tower can have more than one BTS, and there are more than 1.1 lakh BTS installed on the BSNL towers.
Of these, more than 65,000 BTS towers will be part of the subsidiary, which will be fully owned by BSNL, and the government aims at completing the work in two years’ time.
“We already share our towers with private players. We are looking at a subsidiary company within the company. We want more focus on tower sharing. The business is small now just Rs. 200 crore. But the potential is Rs. 2,000-2,500 crore annually,” BSNL Chairman-cum-Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava had told IANS in 2015.
However, BSNL employees have opposed the move, saying it is only a step towards privatisation of the public-sector company.
Speaking to Newsclick, K Sebastin, general secretary of Sanchar Nigam Executives Association, said, “Today they are creating a separate business of tower-sharing with private companies. Tomorrow they will disinvest it. This move will make it easier to sell the towers off to private parties. While the private companies will profit as their cost of operation comes down, the expansion of our services would be affected.”
He said that since BSNL was a public company, it was the only firm operating in the remote and unprofitable areas where no private company wanted to enter, and was thus already incurring some losses. Carving out a tower-sharing company will make it worse.
The other demand that galvanised the workers into the two-day strike was the implementation of the 3rd PRC recommendation for BSNL employees.
“The government has come up with this rule that the wage revision only applies to those PSUs that have made a profit over the last three years,” said Sebastin.
“Even though BSNL has been making an operation profit, it does not show in the balance sheet. This is because while we make profits of around Rs 3,000-4000 crore per year, the yearly depreciation value is Rs 7,000-8,000 crore. We demand that the government recognise this and implement the wage revision for BSNL employees.”
He said the last time wages were revised for BSNL employees was in 2007.
Sebastin said, as per official reports received by him, between 90-95% employees had participated