A shattered building with broken wooden windows and a creaking staircase. A boisterous crowd protesting agitatedly as loudspeakers blare their demands. A group of sat on a make-shift platform and protested through hunger strike. Such were the scenes outside the Kolkata head office of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).
The BSNL was incorporated in 2000, taking over the business of telecom services and network management from the former central government’s Department of Telecom Services and Telecom Operations. The organisation, since then, has slipped miserably and the central government seems to be in no mood to revive the company.
While various private telecommunication players in India have reached 5G spectrums, BSNL has not been able to reach the 4G spectrum yet. Existing private competitors having 4G connections are attracting the market and BSNL is lagging behind.
The same can be observed in the case of fibre to the home (FTTH) service which is the installation of optical fibre from a central point directly to individual buildings. It provides high-speed internet access. Reliance Jio is expected to provide the service while BSNL itself could have provided this - had the central government shown some intent.
According to a BSNL source, “At this moment, BSNL has Rs. 19000 crore as debt in the market but the other private companies have four times more debt. To recover the situation, BSNL requested public banks to sanction loans. But the banks are not ready as the government itself is not agreeing to give guarantee for the organisation.”
Direct attack on employees
The central government has initiated a plan where BSNL employees above 50 and under 58 are being asked to avail the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS). The retirement age for BSNL employees is going to be 58 and that can lead to retirement of another 24000 employees. The government has recently stated that the organisation needs to be downsized for cost cutting.
Animesh Mitra, All India Secretary of BSNL Employees’ Union told BE, “Since 2000, BSNL made profit in its first nine years when we had more than three lakh employees. But in the last decade, the company has seen only losses due to government’s bias towards few private players. Instead of regular employees, casual employees were being hired. Later to avoid the Minimum Wages Act and to avoid giving additional facilities to the workers, the government started hiring contractual workers.”
Arbitrary revival package
64 BSNL plots are being sold to private parties in the name of a ‘Revival Package’ that will free BSNL from its debts. Mitra allegedly, “These plots are being selected from high-value locations in metropolitan cities and being undervalued.
BSNL previously proposed for a land monetisation process but the government is doing this without any concern for the involved stakeholders.”
Service or profit
Government run organisations are intended to provide services to citizens even if that entails momentary losses. In the case of BSNL, it seems to be a deliberate bleeding of a robust, profit making organisation. The government should not end providing essential services like telecommunication and should initiate schemes to revive the company.
BSNL services are being withdrawn from remote areas. In some remote pockets, BSNL still remains the sole provider of telecom services and the withdrawal of services can hamper development processes and lead to governance issues.