By P Abhimanyu


            The entire officers and workers of BSNL are going on an indefinite strike from December 10, 2018. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), the umbrella organisation of all the associations of the officers and unions of workers, is spearheading the strike.

            Demands of the strike include the immediate allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL for rolling out its 4G service, implementation of the government rule in respect of payment of pension contribution by BSNL, wage revision of the employees and pension revision of the retirees, from January 1, 2017.

            As of now, the whole telecom industry is gripped in a crisis. Big private companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are running in huge losses. These companies are also laden with massive debts. The total debt of these telecom companies is in the range of Rs 8 lakh crores. As a result of this crisis, Vodafone has already got merged with Idea. Smaller private telecom companies like Aircel, Tata Teleservices, Anil Ambani owned Reliance Infocomm, Telenor, etc., have got closed down.

            All these have happened due to the predatory pricings of the Mukesh Ambani owned Reliance Jio, which started its services in September, 2016. With its huge financial muscle, Reliance Jio is offering services at “below-cost” rates. The whole game plan of Reliance Jio is to wipe out its competitors, which includes the State owned BSNL. Once this target is achieved, Reliance Jio will show its real face. It will loot the people by steeply raising the call and data charges. It is a matter of deep concern that Reliance Jio is being openly patronised by the Narendra Modi government.

            On September 6, 2016, when Reliance Jio started its services, Prime Minister Naredra Modi appeared with folded hands in the front page advertisements in all the leading national dailies, appealing to the citizens of the country to avail the services of Reliance Jio. These advertisements were a clear message to the entire nation that, Reliance Jio is very close to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that, no one should come in the way of Reliance Jio in achieving its goals.

            The one man who had dared to come in the way of Reliance Jio, had to pay the price. He was JS Deepak, a senior IAS officer, who was the then secretary of the department of telecommunications. He dared to point out how the predatory pricings of Reliance Jio were eating into the revenue of the government, consequent to the drastic fall in the revenue collections of all the telecom companies. (Telecom companies pay license fee and spectrum charges to the government based on their revenue collection.) JS Deepak wrote to the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), demanding action on Reliance Jio for adopting predatory pricings. As a result, JS Deepak was instantaneously shunted out of the DoT, and was dumped in the department of commerce. This was a clear signal given by the Narendra Modi government, as to what would happen to anyone who dares to speak against Reliance Jio.

            To enable Reliance Jio to achieve its goal of wiping out all other telecom service providers, the government is engaged in the nefarious game of clipping the wings of BSNL. BSNL is a 100 per cent government company. It is already four years since 4G service are rolled out by the private telecom companies. However, BSNL has not started the 4G service, since it is not allotted the 4G spectrum by the government. The AUAB is organising struggles for the past one year, demanding allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL. But, the government has turned a deaf ear to this demand, with the ulterior motive of preventing the public sector company from putting up an effective competition to Reliance Jio.

            It is very pertinent to mention here that, the employees have played a significant role in strengthening BSNL. They have launched various movements, to motivate the employees to improve the quality of BSNL’s services, and also to massively involve them in the company’s marketing activities. The “Customer Delight Year”, “Service with a Smile”, “BSNL at Your Door Steps” are the movements launched by the unions and associations of BSNL in the recent years. As a result of these efforts, noteworthy improvement has come in BSNL’s quality of services, which is reflected in its increased revenue and customer base.

            BSNL was in a loss of more than Rs 8,800 crores in 2011-12. However, due to the combined efforts taken by the employees and the management, it started making operating profit (EBIDTA) in 2014-15. The company made an operating profit of Rs 672.57 crores in 2014-15. This increased to Rs 3,854.48 crores in 2015-16. Even after the entry of Reliance Jio in September 2016, BSNL earned an operating profit of Rs1,684.00 crores in 2016-17.

            BSNL’s improved performance is reflected in the expansion of its customer base also. For example, the company’s mobile customers increased by 11.5 per cent in 2017. During the same year, Airtel’s customers increased by only 9.13 per cent, while Vodafone’s customers increased by 3.83 per cent and Idea’s customers increased by 3.14 per cent. It must be remembered that all these achievements are made by the BSNL without the 4G technology and with only 2G and 3G technologies, while all the private companies are armed with 4G technology.

            Apart from the allotment of 4G spectrum, the AUAB is also demanding the implementation of the government’s rule in the matter of BSNL’s payment of pension contribution. It is atrocious that, the Narendra Modi government is violating its own rule, and is fleecing a huge amount from BSNL every year, in the name of pension contribution. This is seriously affecting the financial health of the company.

            The AUAB is also demanding wage revision for the employees and pension revision to the retirees, from January 1, 2017. The unions and associations went on strike twice in 2017, apart from organising various other struggles. As a result, the minister of state for communications had invited the AUAB leaders for talks on February 24, 2018 and gave assurances to settle all the demands. However, after sitting on the assurances for eight long months, the department of telecommunications has sent a letter to the BSNL management November 6, 2018, rejecting the important demands of the AUAB. This has made the indefinite strike by the BSNL employees from December 10 inevitable.

(IPA Service)

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