BSNL revival plans fail to move beyond VRS; employees plan hunger strike
24 February 2020
Employees of state-run telecom firm Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd are planning a nationwide hunger strike demanding speedy implementation of rescue plan for the ailing telco, including allocation of fourth generation or 4G radio spectrum, sovereign guarantee for market access and disbursal of January wages to employees.
“We are asking the government to fast track the revival package, including sovereign guarantee, 4G spectrum allocation and disbursal of January salary,” reports quoted Aftab Ahmad Khan, president, Sanchar Nigam Executives' Association (SNEA), as saying.
Nearly 50 per cent or as many as 78,569 employees of the telecom firm accepted the terms of a voluntary retirement package offered by the government as part of a revival package.
With the first payout under the VRS package expected by March end, the telco is expected to save as much as Rs7,000 crore annually.
The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) has organised a country-wide hunger strike for early implementation of the cabinet decisions on BSNL’s revival, including expeditious settlement of employees' grievances, according to an AUAB statement on Saturday.
The union cabinet last year approved a Rs69,000-crore revival package for both BSNL and MTNL, which included allotment of 4G spectrum, issuing sovereign guarantee for raising Rs15,000 crore (Rs8,500 for BSNL and Rs6,500 for MTNL) funds via long-term bonds, monetisation of assets and implementation of voluntary retirement scheme.
Of these, only the VRS has been implemented and 78,569 BSNL employees have been sent home. BSNL has not been allotted 4G spectrum. Similarly, sovereign guarantee for bond issue is also yet to come. The process of monetisation of BSNL's assets is also moving slowly, according to the statement.
The Supreme Court's recent judgement on the AGR calculation had created uncertainties in the telecom sector, due to which banks are unwilling to extend loans to BSNL, the AUAB said.
Due to the delay in the 4G spectrum allotment and non-availability of funds, BSNL is unlikely to launch 4G services by the end of 2020, it said and added it was quite a grim situation for employees.
BSNL, according to sources, have to invest in everything, including equipment, and is in a talks with vendors such as Nokia and ZTE, before getting spectrum.
Two of the BSNL’s equipment suppliers- China’s ZTE and Finland’s Nokia, according to BSNL officials were reluctant to partner for next-generation network rollouts as the state-run firm is yet to clear outstanding dues.
BSNL board has, however, approved the new tender to procure 4G equipment, which is likely to be put up in the public domain to attract prospective bidders.
In the absence of sovereign guarantee, the telco is finding it difficult to raise money while
Despite the Rs70,000-cr revival package announced by union cabinet in October 2019, the financially stressed state-run telecom companies- BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) – are under extreme stress on account of the Supreme Court ruling on Adjusted Gross revenue as also lack of funds and the unwillingness of banks to extend credit to BSNL.