Budget 2022-23: Cutting-edge Technology to Pvt Companies but, Crutches to BSNL
WHILE placing the budget in the parliament, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, proudly announced that 5G service would be launched in this financial year. In the same breath, she announced that 5G service would be launched only by the private telecom companies. It means the public sector BSNL is going to be deprived of 5G technology.
It is a known fact that the Modi government discriminated BSNL in 4G technology also. It is already seven years since 4G service was launched in India. Till date, BSNL has not been able to start its 4G service. The Modi government continues to hatch conspiracies to deny 4G technology to BSNL. The employees and officers of BSNL are continuously organising struggles and are demanding that BSNL should be allowed to launch its 4G service immediately. They also demand that BSNL should be allowed to launch its 5G service on time. However, all these have fallen on deaf ears.
The finance minister has further stated that the government would make a capital infusion of Rs 44,720 crore in BSNL for the upgradation of technology. The media has made a very big hype of this. But, the reality is that the Modi government has already maimed BSNL by not allowing it to launch its 4G service. Now, through this capital infusion the government is only going to provide crutches to BSNL.
CONSPIRACY TO DENY 4G TECHNOLOGY
4G service was launched in India in the year 2014 by private telecom companies. The government is the 100 per cent owner of BSNL. Hence it is obligatory on the part of the government to allocate 4G spectrum to BSNL. But the Modi government did not do it. The employees and officers of BSNL continuously organised united struggles and campaigns among the public, demanding allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL. It was only after prolonged agitations by the employees, that the government took the decision in October 2019, to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL.
BSNL is having 4G compatible BTSs (Base Transceiver Stations), numbering 49,300. After decision was taken by the government to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL, within three or four months, these BTSs could have been upgraded into full-fledged 4G BTSs and BSNL could have launched its pan India level 4G service. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), demanded and continuously pressurised that these BTSs should be upgraded, so that BSNL could immediately launch its 4G service. However, the government did not allow BSNL to upgrade these BTSs. Had this upgradation been allowed, BSNL could have launched its 4G service at least two years ago. The financial position of BSNL would have also greatly improved. But, this was not allowed by the government.
After permission was denied for the upgradation of its towers, in March, 2020, BSNL floated a tender to procure 50,000 BTSs. However, again the government played spoilsport. It mandated BSNL to cancel this tender. The government told that BSNL should not procure equipments from global vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, etc, but should procure its equipments only from Indian vendors. It is known to everyone that no Indian telecom equipment manufacturer possesses 4G technology. The government is also aware of this. Still, the government imposed this condition on BSNL only to ensure that BSNL does not start its 4G service.
This is a very serious discrimination. When all the private telecom companies like Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone Idea procure their entire equipments from global vendors, why should BSNL alone be told to procure its equipments from Indian vendors? This is nothing but the conspiracy of the Modi government to stop BSNL from launching its 4G service, so that the private telecom companies can flourish at the cost of BSNL. It is only because of this conspiracy that BSNL has not been able to launch its 4G service even today. Modi government has succeeded in stopping BSNL from launching its 4G service, for more than seven years now.
Thus, everything has been done by the government to stop BSNL’s 4G launching. BSNL has been maimed by the government. Now, the same government is giving Rs 44,720 crore to BSNL for launching its 4G service. This is nothing but providing crutches to BSNL for limping.
This is not the first time that BSNL is discriminated. This is happening right from the days when the neoliberal policies were introduced. For example, the private companies were allowed to start mobile service in India, in the year 1995. At that time, DoT was the government service provider. But, DoT was not allowed to start the mobile service. BSNL was formed in October 2000 and it could start its mobile service only in October, 2002. Thus, the government service provider was able to enter the mobile segment only seven long years after the private operators entered. This is a well planned discrimination, carried out by the government, to help the private telecom companies to capture the mobile market.
Further, from 2006 to 2012, BSNL was not allowed to procure mobile equipments. One after another, the tenders floated by BSNL to procure equipments were cancelled by the UPA government under one pretext or the other. During this period, mobile connections grew exponentially in India. And the benefits were reaped only by the private operators. It was during this period that BSNL went into loss. BSNL is unable to get out of the loss even today.
3G spectrum was auctioned in the year 2010. But, only the private operators were allowed to start 3G service and BSNL was not allowed. Later on, BSNL was compelled to purchase 3G spectrum at the price paid by the private operators. Thus, Rs10,000 crore was pickpocketed from BSNL, by the government, as spectrum charge. Still, BSNL could start its 3G service belatedly and only after the private operators did it.
Now, the finance minister has said that only private operators will start 5G service. So, once again, BSNL is going to be discriminated and sidelined. The question is, how long will the government discriminate against BSNL?
GOVERNMENT RESCUES VODAFONE IDEA
On the one hand, the government is continuously stabbing on BSNL’s back. On the other hand, it extends all-out support to the private companies. On October 24, 2019, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement, according to which the private telecom companies were directed to pay Rs 1.69 lakh crore to the government as AGR dues. In this, the share of Vodafone Idea alone is Rs 58,254 crores. Consequent to the Supreme Court order, Vodafone Idea went to the brink of bankruptcy. However, the Modi government swiftly came out with a rescue plan. According to this, the spectrum payment and the AGR dues payment were allowed to be deferred for four years. In addition to this, the government gave an option to convert the interest on the deferred spectrum payment and AGR dues into equity.
Accepting the decision of the government, the Board of Vodafone Idea has allotted equity to the government, in lieu of the payment of interest of Rs 16,000 crore. In this way, government of India has now become the biggest shareholder of Vodafone idea, holding 35.8 per cent of the equity of the company. This is a classic example as to what extent the government could go to save the corporates in the telecom industry.
However, the tragedy is that, even after availing all the helps being extended by the government, the private telecom companies never hesitate to loot the people. From November 26, 2021 onwards, Airtel and Vodafone Idea have raised their tariffs by a whopping 25 per cent. Similarly, from December 1, 2021 onwards, Reliance Jio has raised its tariff by 20 per cent.
At the same time, BSNL did not raise its tariffs. Despite being betrayed and back-stabbed repeatedly by the government, BSNL continues to serve the people in right earnest. Even though BSNL is deprived of the 4G technology, in December 2021, it has added 23 lakh new mobile customers. In January 2022, it has added 25 lakh new mobile customers. The existence of BSNL as a vibrant public sector company is very much required in the interest of the people of this country. Hence, compulsion needs to be created on the government, by the people, to ensure that BSNL is not starved technologically.