The employees of government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to approve without delay a revival plan for the telecom entity.
“The employees are very confident that BSNL can be revived in three to four years and made profitable,” K Sebastian, general secretary, Sanchar Nigam Executives Association, wrote in a letter to the PM. On September 26, a meeting convened by P K Mishra, principal secretary to the PM, on revival of BSNL, could not decide the question of whether it was possible.
BSNL has sought government help in the form of conversion of its debt into a sovereign guarantee, a pay revision and a subsequent voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). And, fourth-generation technology (4G) spectrum across India through equity infusion of ~7,000 crore. The proposed VRS package, it suggested, could be funded by a bond issue over 10 years. The employees have said much the same thing, including formation of a Special Purpose Vehicle for taking over BSNL's loan dues, land monetisation and financial support for maintaining 17,000 loss-making rural telephone exchanges. “Senior officers and secretaries may have doubt about the possibility of revival but the employees feel it can be done,” goes the letter.
If there is government support, it says, they are capable of competing with private telecom companies.
“The government did not allot 4G spectrum to BSNL, although BSNL’s 3G service is superior to the 4G service of other operators at various cities, as per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data,” said Sebastian.
The letter also says BSNL’s optical fibre network of a little more than 750,000 route kilometres is more than that of Reliance Jio (325,000), Airtel (250,000) and Vodafone Idea (160,000) put together. And, that network is in every nook and corner of the country, says Sebastian.
BSNL has real estate assets at all prime locations, worth more than Rs 3 trillion. It has 661,000 tower assets and 90 per cent of the Bharatnet project work has been done by it.
“During natural calamities and emergency situations like that in Jammu & Kashmir, BSNL performed in an outstanding way, without looking for profits,” urges Sebastian.
About half the 176,000 employees at BSNL are estimated to retire in the next five to six years. If even half of those eligible (above 50 years) opt for a VRS, that would be 40,000 people.
BSNL’s loss in 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 14,000 crore. The figure was Rs 4,859 crore in 2015-16, Rs 4,793 crore in 2016-17 and Rs 7,993 crore in 2017-18.