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BSNL Employees In Supreme Court Blame Centre For Their Financial Mess

Close to 2000 employees of the debt-ridden,oversized Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) approached the Supreme Court on Monday seeking repatriation into their parent cadres which they left prior to formation of the public sector undertaking in 2000. The Government has proposed to roll out a one-time retirement package for the employees as part of its attempt to revive the PSU.

Listing out a host of demands, which if implemented, could redeem the behemoth public telecom operator to continue in business, the employees under the banner National Federation of Telecom Employees – BSNL of Chennai Circle, demanded protection of livelihood of about 1.73 lakh employees that was at risk. The bench of Justices SA Bobde and BR Gavai asked the lawyers for the association, Ashok Mathur and R Sudhinder to approach the High Court with their demands.

Having been the market leaders till 2010, the petition wondered how BSNL went bust failing to pay salaries to its employees. The petition said, “BSNL was always the victim of poor or delayed management decision on various business strategies. It also has a bad experience in getting the government approvals on time when it tried to expand the business or compete with other telecom companies. BSNL was about to be the first 4G provider in India but it wasn’t allowed by the Indian government and it was put on hold until the big private companies like Reliance, Airtel and Vodafone started and became leaders in the 4G market.”

In 2012, Airtel was the first to launch 4G services followed by Vodafone in 2015, and Reliance Jio in 2016. BSNL just got the nod of the Department of Telecom (DOT) this year to start 4G service pan-India though it has rolled out only in Kerala and Karnataka. The petition said, “Once the 4G spectrum is allotted for pan India operations, BSNL would surely be back in the race. Besides, the Fibre (FTTH) broadband of BSNL has a huge demand and it is now concentrating on this segment too.”

While it is true that BSNL currently occupies just 10 percent of the market share among telecom users, the latest Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data for November 2018 puts BSNL’s wireless subscriber base at 113.78 million up from 111.68 million in March 2018 and 101 million in March 2017, the petition stated. The decline in BSNL’s revenue was due to the stiff competition it faced being the latest entrant in the high-speed data connectivity sector. Surprisingly, net subscriber addition of BSNL was the highest at 11.5 percent in 2017-18. While the corresponding figures for Bharti Airtel was 9.5 percent, Vodafone (3.8 percent) and Idea (3.2 percent) during that period.

The employees hope that as per a memorandum of understanding signed by Government ion September 30, 2000, if assets of DOT worth Rs 63000 crore could be transferred to BSNL, this could enable the PSU to borrow loan from banks for its future expansion. The fact that the Board of BSNL enjoys no autonomy and is dependent on DOT approval for any purchase or business venture has kept BSNL behind in a sector having cut-throat competition.―DNA India

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