July 05, 2020

Modi Govt’s Clandestine Moves to Kill BSNL

B Abhimanyu

IT is already eight months since the Modi government announced BSNL’s revival package with much fan-fare. However, except retrenching 79,000 employees under the VRS, no worth-mentioning step has been taken by the government to revive BSNL. On the contrary, clandestine moves are being made by the government to weaken BSNL and to render it a lame duck.

The tender floated by BSNL to procure 4G equipments has been stalled by the government. BSNL Employees Union has organised dharna throughout the country on June 26, 2020, protesting against the nefarious game of the government to stall BSNL’s 4G network roll out.

BSNL has floated a tender to procure equipments for rolling out its 4G network. However, based on the complaint given by an organisation called Telecom Equipments and Services Promotion Council (TEPC), the government has put BSNL’s tender on hold. The crux of the TEPC’s complaint is that, BSNL’s 4G tender has been floated in violation of the “Make in India Policy" of the government.

The TEPC has specifically objected to two conditions contained in BSNL's tender. The first condition stipulates that, any company participating in the tender should have achieved a turnover of Rs 8,000 crore in the past two financial years. The other condition stipulates that the participating company should possess the experience of having provided 20 million 4G lines. The TEPC has also demanded that multinational companies should be barred from participating in BSNL’s 4G tender.

The conditions laid down by BSNL in its tender are absolutely justified. The conditions have been laid down only to ensure that the company which participates in the tender should be having the required financial wherewithal to expeditiously manufacture and supply the 4G equipments. Further, the conditions also seek to ensure that the company should also have the experience of managing a vast 4G network.


It is bizarre to note that the government has given undue credence to the complaint of an inconsequential organisation and has stalled BSNL’s tender. A committee has now been formed by the government for suggesting guidelines to BSNL for floating a fresh tender. In forcing BSNL to float a fresh tender, the only motive of the government is to stop BSNL's 4G network roll out.

The demand of the TEPC that the multinational companies should be barred from participating in BSNL’s 4G tender is mischievous, to say the least. When all the private operators are procuring world class equipments from multinational companies like Nokia, ZTE, Ericsson and Huawei, why should BSNL alone be compelled to procure substandard 4G equipments from inexperienced local vendors, with unproven technology? This will only result in denial of level playing field to BSNL.  So far as we know, no Indian Company has developed 4G technology. As such, forcing BSNL to procure 4G equipments only from local vendors, is only intended to stop BSNL from rolling out its 4G network.

It has now become very clear that the TEPC is nothing but only a tool being used by vested interests to stop BSNL from rolling out its 4G network.  It is not difficult to understand who will be benefited if BSNL’s 4G roll out is delayed. In 2006 also, the private telecom companies hatched a similar conspiracy to stall BSNL’s mobile network expansion. Cases were filed in many High Courts against the tender floated by BSNL to procure 45 million line 2G equipments.

However, BSNL won in all those cases. Ultimately, the then telecom minister, A Raja, was utilised by the private companies to cancel that 45 million line tender. BSNLEU is having every reason to believe that such a conspiracy has been hatched now also. The resurgence of BSNL, as a vibrant telecom PSU, will certainly hurt Mukesh Ambani’s ambitious plan of pocketing the entire telecom business. The hasty move made by the Modi government to put BSNL’s 4G tender on hold, only proves that the government has become subservient in fulfilling Mukesh Ambani’s ambitious plan. 

Apart from the 4G network roll out, the other measures announced by the government in its revival package for BSNL, have also not seen the light of the day. Especially, the assurance given by the government to extend ‘sovereign guarantee’ to BSNL, to raise money from the market by way of issuing bonds, has also not happened.  The DoT is also not giving approval to BSNL's proposals for taking bank loans. As a result, BSNL is facing extreme liquidity crunch.

After violent clashes took place between the Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley, the DoT announced that BSNL and MTNL were barred from procuring telecom equipments from Chinese companies. It must be noted that this bar is not for the private telecom companies. The DoT will try to justify its action on the 'national security' grounds. It is important to note here that the Chinese telecom equipments are internationally acclaimed as more efficient as well as cost effective, compared to the equipments supplied by the western multinational companies.

It is wonderful that only in the matter of BSNL's procuring equipments from Chinese telecom companies, Modi government is reminded of national security. But, in the matter of awarding the government funded project of installing 54 mobile towers in the border area of Ladakh, the government is not reminded of any such thing. It is not out of context to mention here that Jio has already been entrusted with the job of providing connectivity in all the Indian airports. Similarly, Jio has also been selected by the Indian Railways, for providing telecom services.

Slowly but steadily, Reliance Jio is emerging as the government service provider, replacing BSNL. The government may give lame excuses to justify all its actions of favouring Reliance Jio. But, it is crystal clear that, Mukesh Ambani is the blue-eyed boy of the Narendra Modi government, in the telecom industry.

So far as the employees are concerned, they are determined to save BSNL through their struggles and by exposing to the people, the pro-Jio and anti-BSNL steps being taken by the Modi government.