April 05, 2015

BSNL Employees to Hold Strike Demanding Revival of BSNL

P Abhimanyu

THE entire 2.25 lakh employees of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), both the executives and the non-executives, are going on a country wide two-day strike on April 21-22, 2015, demanding immediate steps for the revival of BSNL. Thousands of BSNL employees conducted a March to the Parliament on February 25, and a memorandum was submitted to the prime minister’s office. Strike notice has been served on March 12, 2015. The Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations, the umbrella organisation which is spearheading the struggle, has conducted a powerful ‘Save-BSNL’ campaign among the public throughout the country. More the 25 lakh signatures have been collected from the people, in support of the demand for the revival of BSNL. The Forum has also conducted massive conventions in all the states to fully mobilise the employees. Undoubtedly, the strike will be a historic success. BSNL’s asset value is Rs 89,333.44 crores and it is the tenth biggest company in the country. At the same time, it is also the biggest loss making public sector company. It is continuously in loss, since 2009-10. There is widespread criticism about the quality of BSNL’s services. The corporate media is making a virulent campaign that BSNL has failed in its competition with the private operators, and that it must be privatised without further delay. However, truth is the other way round. Private companies were given licenses in 1995 to start mobile service. But, BSNL was given license to start mobile service seven years later, ie, only in 2002. Despite this well-planned headstart provided to the private companies by the government, it did not take much time for BSNL to make rapid advance in the mobile segment. In 2003 itself, BSNL provided more number of mobile connections than all the private operators put together. In 2004-05, despite stiff competition from the private companies, BSNL made a net profit of Rs 10,183 crore. It was making profit till 2009. Hence, it is wrong to say that BSNL cannot compete with the private operators. Then, what is the reason for BSNL’s present problems? DEEP ROOTED CONSPIRACY TO WEAKEN BSNL Undoubtedly, it is because of the deep rooted conspiracy between the private operators and the politicians in power, that BSNL lost the race, and has gone into loss. As a result of this conspiracy, BSNL was not allowed to expand its mobile network for almost six to seven years. In 2007, BSNL’s tender, to procure 45 million line mobile equipments was cancelled by the then telecom minister A Raja. This was done purely to block BSNL’s network expansion, so that the private operators can get benefited. The entire BSNL employees had gone on a one day strike in July 2007, demanding not to cancel that tender. Again, the home ministry raised objections when BSNL was about to procure equipments from a Chinese company in 2010, through its mega tender floated to procure 93 million line mobile equipments. Finally, this tender was also cancelled. The objection of the home ministry was that, being a government company, BSNL should not procure equipments from a Chinese company, since it would be a threat to the national security. At a time when all the major private telecom operators were procuring equipments from Chinese manufactures, it was malicious on the part of the home ministry, in restraining BSNL to do the same. This was done with the sole intention of curtailing BSNL’s growth. Through the Neera Radia tapes, it became amply clear to what extent various ministries are being influenced by the corporates. It is because of these well calculated road blocks created in BSNL’s equipment procurement programme, the company was not able to expand and upgrade its networks on time, which resulted in network congestion and deterioration in the quality of its services. TELECOM MINISTER’S CONFESSION In his interview to the CNBC-TV18 on February 28, 2015, Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for communications and IT has made the following confession. “Both these companies (read BSNL and MTNL) were in profit by the year 2005-2006, thousands and thousands of crore. What happened in the subsequent years that they have come under such a critical state? Something which I can openly tell you today, that every attempt was made that they are not allowed to expand.” Ever since Ravi Shankar Prasad became the minister, he is echoing this view. What the minister says is 100 per cent correct. But, it is already ten months since he took over. He has done precious little to undo the injustice that has been meted out to BSNL. Hence, it is the number one demand of the Forum, that BSNL should get immediate procurement of equipments, for the much delayed expansion of its networks, for which the government should enable BSNL to get the requisite finance. COMPENSATE BSNL’S LOSS-MAKING RURAL LANDLINE SERVICE Another major reason for BSNL’s going into red, is the losses that it is incurring on account of providing rural landline service. BSNL’s loss in 2013-14 was Rs 7,600 crores. Whereas, the loss it is incurring annually, on account of providing rural landline service, is more than Rs 10,000 crores. These landline connections were provided as per the targets fixed by the government, all these years. It is very important to note that BSNL is the only company which is providing landline service in the rural areas of the country. When BSNL was formed in the year 2000, the government had given an assurance to BSNL that, it would compensate BSNL for providing “socially necessary, but commercially unviable” services. However, this promise was never implemented, despite being repeatedly demanded by the trade unions. It is pertinent to mention here, that the successive governments which came to power, have done everything possible to strengthen the private companies. The best example is what was done by Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999. After getting licenses in 1995, the private companies defaulted in paying the license fee to the government. This amount ran into thousands of crores of rupees. To bail out the defaulty private operators, Vajpayee government switched over from the license fee regime to the revenue sharing regime. Together with this, the thousands of crores of rupees, due from the private operators, was also waived. When such largesse could be given to the private operators, the government certainly has the duty to honour its promise given to BSNL at the time of its formation. It is the second important demand of the strike, that the government should compensate the losses being incurred by BSNL to provide rural landline service. The Forum of BSNL Unions and Associations has repeatedly been writing to the government to take steps for the revival of BSNL. It is not only that the government has not shown any interest in the revival of BSNL, but it has started taking certain measures which will ultimately kill the company. The proposed merger of BSNL with MTNL, the decision to take away BSNL’s mobile towers and to form a separate subsidiary tower company, are some of such decisions. Many posts of the company’s board of directors, lie vacant for years together. The government intentionally remains silent, without taking steps to fill them up. With a truncated board of directors, how the company, can perform? In its 30 point charter of demands, the Forum has raised many such vital issues connected with the revival of BSNL. The BSNL employees are determined to restore the past glory of BSNL. The two-day strike that will be taking place on April 21-22 will be followed by more intensive struggles, if necessary.