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The following write up in Peoples’ Democracy 19th May issue is reproduced here for the benefit of our readers.

Forum Makes Concrete, Practical Proposals

 THE Forum of BSNL Unions & Associations submitted, on may 10, 2013, a memorandum to the group of ministers appointed to look into the issue revival of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the two public sector telecom companies.

 The memorandum underlined the fact that the BSNL is a 100 per cent government owned company, and that at one stage it was converted from a government department into a public sector undertaking (PSU). Despite the cut-throat competition which the BSNL has been facing from the private operators, resulting in grave financial difficulties for it, it is the only telecom company that provides landlines and also a majority of mobile lines in lakhs of villages and remote areas. Though this is a loss making proposition, the BSNL has been doing it as part of the government’s policy of providing universal services. Moreover, the BSNL has been fulfilling its duty in spite of the government’s strange behaviour of unduly favouring the private players and trying to throttle the growth and expansion of BSNL operations in order to enable the private players to augment their profits.

In view of the critical situation thus facing the BSNL, the said forum has made some proposals and raised some demands through its memorandum.

The forum has suggested that the top management, which mainly comprises some officers of the Indian Telecom Service, are at present on deputation to the BSNL, and are not interested in the wellbeing of the company. Therefore they should either be absorbed in the BSNL or repatriated back to the department of telecommunications (DoT) in order to ensure efficient and committed leadership. The forum also opined that recruitment of capable management personnel, as also promotion of efficient officers, is very much required.

Another proposal is that compensation for the loss-making rural services should be ensured. For this purpose, the ADC which was stopped some years back should be restored and liberal assistance provided from the USO Fund.

The main reason for the loss accruing to the BSNL during the last four years is the equipment crunch. When the government resorted to cancellation of a tender for equipment needed for 45.5 million mobile lines in 2007, it was the starting point of the process to make the BSNL go down. Further, cancellation of another tender regarding 95 million lines, two times cancellation of a tender for five million lines etc, crippled the BSNL as it impacted its capability to provide new connections. Had these many mobile lines been made operational, the BSNL could well have competed with the private companies as it was doing well till 2007. Hence the forum thinks it is necessary that a mechanism for procurement of equipment must be evolved in order to enable quick purchases while of course ensuring accountability.

The Forum of BSNL Unions & Associations has also demanded that the BSNL must be reimbursed the Rs 18,500 crore of licence fee charges for 3G and BWA spectrum, since it was imposed on the BSNL without giving any opportunity to select the circles, etc. It has already offered return of the BWA spectrum. The forum said the government must not wait for a re-auction for refunding the amount.

The government has been collecting a very huge amount from the BSNL towards the pension contribution. While the government had already issued orders to collect pension contributions based on the actual basic pays of the employees, pension contributions from the BSNL are collected on the maximum of the pay-scale. This is unfair and has been causing a huge burden on the BSNL. This must be rectified and contribution on the actual basic pay only must be collected.

The government has collected interest at the high rate of 14.5 per cent and penalty from the BSNL towards a notional loan of Rs 7,500 crore which was never given to the BSNL. The forum has demanded that this must be refunded to the BSNL and the injustice undone.

The BSNL must also be exempted from payment for the additional spectrum already granted. It must be mandatory for all the central and state government departments as well as the PSUs to take telecom services from the PSUs, viz the BSNL and MTNL, as was directed in the case of Air India. This will address the security concerns also.

The forum also demanded that the seven telecom factories under BSNL must be modernised to manufacture telephone instruments modems, batteries, cables, optic fibre cables etc, so that the huge prices being paid to private companies could be reduced and the available staff in these factories could be fully utilised.

Another important demand of the forum was that the Telecom Advisory Committee (TAC) must be disbanded at all levels, as it has outlived its utility in the present competitive situation and is only causing huge but unnecessary expenditures to the BSNL.

The forum has expressed its strong protest against any proposal for disinvestment of the BSNL or for the so-called voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), which will only destabilise the BSNL. This is quite clear from the experience of the MTNL where VRS and disinvestment have taken place more than once.

Many other suggestions for reviving the BSNL, improving its service and restoring its earlier position are also included in the memorandum. Copies of the memorandum have been sent to the prime minister, all members of the committee including communication minister, secretary of the DoT and CMD of the BSNL as well.

The Forum of BSNL Unions & Association has urged the group of ministers and the government to consider the above suggestions and take positive decisions so that the BSNL could be revived and strengthened. (Courtsey: Peoples’ Democracy 19th May Issue)