Parliament March by BSNL & MTNL Workers

In the afternoon of 22nd November 2012, thousands of BSNL & MTNL workers gathered in the lawns of Bharat Sanchar Bhawan, the corporate office of BSNL, and started marching towards Parliament. This was as per the decision taken by the Joint Forum of BSNL&MTNL Unions/Associations to focus the present grave situation in these two PSUs due to complete mismanagement by non-absorbed Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officers, who are on  deputation for the last 12-14 years. The demand of the workers is that to save the BSNL & MTNL from collapse, these non-absorbed deputationist officers should be repatriated to the government, since they are not prepared to get absorbed in BSNL and work as BSNL officers. The four lakh executive and non-executive employees have given their option and got absorbed in BSNL & MTNL immediately after the formation of the two PSUs.

The double standard and Gross discrimination against BSNL/MTNL

Formation of three corporations from the then Department of Telecom viz. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited(BSNL) was part of the neo-liberal policy of the government and intended to hand over the telecom services to the MNCs and  Indian corporates for maximisation of their profits. VSNL is already privatised and is a Tata company, Tata Teleservices. More than 45% shares of MTNL are  disinvested. Due to continuous struggles by the workers under the leadership of the Joint Forum, the government could not so far disinvest BSNL.

However, the government has been able to make MTNL and BSNL in to loss-making companies during the last three – four years. The cash reserve coming to Rs. 40,000 crore of BSNL and Rs. 4500 Crore of MTNL has been confiscated by the government through Licence Fee, Dividend, Taxes, notional loan with high interest, spectrum fees etc. Almost double charges have been levied on these companies for the 2G and BWA Spectrums.

There is gross discrimination against BSNL & MTNL by the government in contrast with the favours shown to the private telcos. This started from the day first itself. When mobile licences were issued for private telecom companies  during 1994-96, the DOT (BSNL & MTNL not formed) was denied permission to start mobile services. It was only after 2002, that both BSNL and MTNL were granted permission, thus helping private companies to establish themselves in the mobile sector.

Despite this initial set back, both the PSUs were advancing fast in the mobile sector. BSNL reached to the second position by 2006. The 4.5 crore mobile lines tender which was floated by BSNL for expanding its services in the fast growing mobile market was thwarted by  Government by compelling the BSNL management to cancel the tender. Another tender for 9.3 crore met with the same fate, resulting in making BSNL helpless to expand its services which resulted in  its market share to fall down below 20%.

The government also went back from its commitment to provide ADC (Access Deficit Charge), USOF subsidy and reimbursement of Licence Fee to BSNL which was assured by the government at the time of corporatisation.

In all these discriminations against BSNL/MTNL, the Managements of both these companies were silent and did not even react. Instead of pressurising the government to honour its commitments to the two PSUs, they became willing partners in the move against the PSUs.

Not only that. Being on deputation and not absorbed in PSUs, the non-optee ITS, who are Group A Officers posted in the top management positions like CGM, GM etc., naturally lost the high motivation and commitment that are required to run big PSUs like BSNL & MTNL. The development and expansion of the services were seriously and adversely affected. The managements utterly failed to provide equipment and other accessories for expansion and for better service. The sustained efforts of the Joint Forum and the unions for improvement of services were not taken in true spirit by the managements. On the contrary, in many centres, the management completely refused even to discuss the developmental issues with the unions. Corruption became rampant. District Secretary of BSNLEU, Ghaziabad, who complained about the corruption of the GM to the higher authorities was murdered in the GM’s office itself. No action has been taken by the BSNL against the GM. In fact, he is being shamelessly shielded by top officers who also belong to the ITS.

The ITS officers were given four chances for absorption, but the majority did not opt either for BSNL or MTNL. The government issued for repatriation of these officials, but they got stay from the court and continued on deputation beyond the maximum period of five years. The Delhi High Court has now given judgement to repatriate all the non-optee ITS to government at the latest by 30th September 2012, but the managements of BSNL & MTNL have not implemented the orders; instead they have appealed to the court to allow them ten years more  for gradual repatriation. This position is not acceptable to the workers.

There cannot be two types of service conditions, one for the ITS to be on permanent deputation and the other for the absorbed executives and non-executives. If permanent deputation is going to be granted to the ITS, then the same condition should be for all other employees also. Otherwise, it will be denial of equal opportunity and  natural justice.

On this issue  the BSNL & MTNL Unions/Associations have been going on agitation for the last few months. Demonstrations were held all over India, Telegram campaign was conducted and  one week hunger strike was organised throughout the country from 29th October 2012.  Communications Minister, Secretary DOT and CMDs of BSNL & MTNL were approached for necessary action, but nothing happened. It is in this context that the Parliament March was organised on 22nd November 2012  under the auspices of the Joint Forum of BSNL & MTNL Unions/Associations.

The Parliament March participated by more than two thousand workers started from the BSNL Corporate office premises. The March, shouting slogans protesting against the management’s inaction in the matter, proceeded to the Parliament through the busy roads for more than one hour. There were the red flags of the unions and banners in many colours. Many of the marchers held placards with demands printed on them. The March was stopped in front of Parliament Police Station by a large police force and by putting barricades. The rally was held there itself. A temporary stage was set up using the truck as the rostrum.

Com. V.A.N.Namboodiri, Convener, Joint Forum of BSNL & MTNL Unions/Associations greeted the large number of participants and explained the demands in brief as also the gross inaction of the government and the managements in sorting out the issue. He severely criticised the government policy of disinvestment and other decisions of the government which are intended to weaken the PSUs including BSNL and MTNL. Com.M.K.Bagchi, Chairman of the Joint Forum presided.

Com.Basudeb Acharia, Member of Parliament and leader of CPI(M) in Lok Sabha snd Shri Arjun Meghwal, M.P. from Rajasthan addressed the rally and assured all support to the demand. Basudeb Acharia reminded the government that the employees were completely against corporatisation and were compelled to accept absorption to BSNL. But even after 12 years the ITS continues on deputation which is in gross violation of the existing rules and decisions. He assured full support to the cause of the workers and said that he will take up these with the government.

Comrades P.Abhimanyu (BSNLEU), Islam Ahmed (NFTE), Prahlad Rai(AIBSNLEA), K.Sebastin (SNEA), V.K.Tomar (MTNLEA) A.K.. Kaushik, (MTNL),  V. Suburamman, ( TEPU),  Suresh Kumar (BSNL MS), S.P. Sharma( WRU)  Ram Kishan Ram (BTU) and other leaders also addressed..


Memorandum to the Prime Minister

A Memorandum to the Prime  Minister  was handed over by a delegation consisting of the Chairman and the Convener, Joint  Forum.  It demanded that all the non-optee ITS officers be immediately repatriated to the DOT and end the discrimination against the BSNL workers. In case permanent deputation is allowed for ITS, the same should be  granted to all the executive and non-executives.

The   massive Parliament March has given enthusiasm to the BSNL & MTNL workers to continue their agitation till the demand is achieved which will benefit both the PSU and its workers. The joint struggle being waged  also helped  the movement towards making  close connection and unity in struggle between the BSNL and MTNL workers.

The Joint Forum will meet and  intensify the agitation if the demands are not met by the government and the management.