All eyes on crucial BSNL meeting on Thursday

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on September 26, 2019 Published on September 26, 2019

PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister   -  V_Sudershan

In a move that could hasten the revival of the ailing Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd , PK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, has convened a meeting on Thursday to iron out the issues.

The meeting is being called at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and officials from PMO, Telecom and Finance Ministries, Department of Telecommunications (DoT), government think-tank NITI Aayog, BSNL and union leaders are slated to attend.

“This meeting is crucial as it would be about the Government’s intention on BSNL’s fate, as to whether the company should be revived or shutdown. In case of a decision to revive the company, the meeting would lay the groundwork for the future of the Public Sector Unit (PSU),” a source close to the development told BusinessLine.

On the agenda are the earlier proposals approved by the Group of Ministers (GoM), DoT and the PMO. “Certain recommendations and proposals, which were approved by DoT and GoM, were later rejected by the PMO. The meeting intends to reach a consensus on these issues,” another source said.

Mishra was not involved in earlier discussions of BSNL’s revival plan.

At the heart of the discussion is the issue of setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the ailing PSU’s land monetisation plans. Even though, this was approved by the Telecom Ministry and DoT, PMO had rejected the proposal.

The recommendation for an SPV was rejected, citing the experience at Air India where the model was a failure. Last week, Sanchar Nigam Executives’ Association (SNEA), an employees’ union of BSNL, had sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to reconsider this proposal. A merger with the other debt-laden PSU, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), which was also rejected by the PMO, is also on the agenda.

Immediate issues of funds for operations and salaries, with now a fear of September salary being delayed again, are other topics expected to be taken up at the meeting, sources added.

BSNL had paid August salary after an 18 days’ delay, and it had also missed paying February and July salaries on time.

Meanwhile, MTNL – which operates only in Mumbai and Delhi circles – is yet to pay staff wages for August to about 22,000 employees, another source said. The cash-strapped company’s monthly wage bill comes to about ₹160 crore.

According to data submitted before he Lok Sabha in June, MTNL's market share in its two circles fell to 6.95 per cent as of end  2018-19 from 7.37 per cent in 2016-17.

The two PSUs had earlier approached the DoT, seeking help to tide over their financial stress. BSNL, in its part, had accused competitive practices by a new entrant for the stress in the sector.

India’s total number of wireless users stood at 1,168.31 million, while the wired connections stood at 20.96, according to telecom subscription data as on July 31 released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)

The country’s private operators had an 89.73 per cent market share as of July 31, while the remaining 10.27 per cent was held by the two public sector companies, BSNL and MTNL.

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Published on September 26, 2019
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