Absorption of ITS officers into MTNL, BSNL SC dismisses DoT plea to vacate stay orders on contingency plan

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Our Bureau

New Delhi, Oct. 14

THE Supreme Court today dismissed the Government's plea seeking to vacate stay orders passed by High Courts of Uttaranchal and Guwahati on implementation of a `contingency plan' pertaining to the issue of absorption of Indian Telecom Services (ITS) officers into MTNL and BSNL.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) moved the Supreme Court on Thursday after Group-A telecom officers - currently on deemed deputation to the two telecom corporations - refused to accept an absorption package offered to them, ahead of the stipulated October 15 deadline.

Hearing two Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) filed by the DoT against the orders of the High Courts of Uttaranchal and Guwahati, a Division Bench comprising Ms Justice Ruma Pal and Mr Justice B.N. Srikrishna asked the Centre to go back to the respective High Courts to get vacated the interim orders staying the implementation of the proposed contingency plan.

The Bench also asked the High Courts to decide the matters pending before them "as expeditiously as possible", preferably within four weeks.

A senior DoT official refused to comment immediately on the next course of action, saying that the Department would first study the order and its implications.

"We can't say anything till we study the judgement."

Reacting to the order, Mr S.S. Sirohi, President of the Indian Telecom Service Association (ITSA), said that he was extremely satisfied with the decision of the apex court.

"With this order, they (DoT) can't go ahead with the contingency plan as the High Court stay indicates that no contingency plan can be deployed."

The ongoing logjam between the ITSA and the DoT relates to the issue of absorption of over 2,200 ITS officers in BSNL and MTNL.

At the time of formation of BSNL on October 1, 2000 the Cabinet had permitted deemed deputation for Group A officers for five years.

The date was set to expire on September 30, 2005 but was later extended to October 15.

The DoT has offered terms and conditions for absorption in BSNL and MTNL with option to remain in Government service, but ITS officers have rejected the package.

ITSA is of the opinion that the package offered is "inferior" to the existing terms and conditions.

The ITSA's demands pertain to pension and security issues, rationalisation of pay scales, and reservation of the post of Director and CMD in MTNL and BSNL for ITS officers and those absorbed.

With only a small fraction of ITS officers opting for absorption into BSNL and MTNL on October 10 - the deadline for submitting the option form - the Government had earlier planned to put in place its contingency strategy to run telecom services of BSNL and MTNL after studying related court cases.

The contingency plan would involve Group B officers and retired telecom officers, if necessary.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 15, 2005)
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