BSNL revival plan lacks vision: Staff union

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on September 11, 2019 Published on September 10, 2019

Seeks closure of loss-making exchanges; demand may jeopardise Digital India drive

An employees’ union of State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has sought “immediate” closure of loss-making telephone exchanges, estimated to be about 17,000-18,000, a demand if considered would impact Digital India initiatives. The union believes BSNL’s revival plan submitted before the government lacks vision.

In a letter to BSNL Chairman and MD PK Purwar, Sanchar Nigam Executives’ Association (SNEA) has sought relocation of GSM Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) from these exchanges. About 99 per cent of these exchanges are in rural areas, with some of them in the border areas. The letter, signed by SNEA General Secretary Sebastin K, said that “massive” investments are needed for BSNL’s revival, even as it stresses on more funding for 5G.

“There are about 17,000-18,000 exchanges that don’t even generate revenues even to meet operational costs. These exchanges are important for ‘Digital India’ and other initiatives as the fibre and supporting infrastructure are connected through these exchanges,” a source close to the development told BusinessLine.

For instance, of the total 1,200 exchanges BSNL has in West Bengal, nearly 870 are loss-making, said sources. This also comes at a time when BSNL, hit by a financial crunch, had closed down as much as 1,000 towers in June this year.

“In its initial Cabinet memo, BSNL had sought subsidies from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to maintain these exchanges. However, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) rejected it,” another source said. USOF has a corpus of more than ₹50,000 crore, earmarked to fund telecom infrastructure rollout in rural India for which BSNL is a major implementing partner.

Plan lacks details

The letter mentioned that future roadmap for BSNL is “missing” in the revival plans submitted before the Cabinet. The revival plan only mentions about 4G spectrum allotment, permission for land monetisation and guarantees for BSNL’s bonds (to be issued to raise funding for its Voluntary Retirement Scheme).

The revival plan has no mention how it will redeploy personnel opting for VRS, its plans for loss-making circles, and BSNL’s future business roadmap. A roadmap should also state where the company should focus on- whether it’s mobile, landline, FTTH, transmission or enterprise business.

The letter sought more investment for 5G rather than for 4G. The union is of the opinion that as most operators on the verge of launching 5G services, the lifespan for 4G would be limited to another 12-18 months. Further, customers have already chosen their operators.

SNEA now wants BSNL, which was behind other operators in launching 3G and 4G services, to rollout 5G simultaneously along others.

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Published on September 10, 2019
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