Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) is set to face more challenges in the coming days. Its employees plan a nationwide campaign to oust the telco’s Chairman and Managing Director, Pravin Kumar Purwar.
The employee unions have alleged that Purwar has failed to revive the struggling state-run telecom operator and is responsible for the 4G network launch delay.
Purwar took the role of BSNL’s CMD in the second half of 2019 before leading debt-ridden MTNL for over five years. He continues to hold the position of CMD of MTNL while serving as full-time CMD of BSNL.
All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) issued a circular to hold demonstrations on October 26 around their charter of demands, including removal of Purwar. It will start a social media campaign this week demanding the removal of Purwar from the post.
“A black-flag/black badge-wearing demonstration will be organised on October 26, 2021 demanding settlement of the charter of demands. The removal of PK Purwar, CMD, BSNL, will also be included in the charter of demands,” AUAB said in its circular, which added that the leaders of various BSNL unions are disappointed and anguished over the failure of the telco’s management to take steps for the revival.
The Indian government had announced a revival package in October 2019 for BSNL and MTNL worth Rs 69,000 crore. The package also included 4G spectrum allocation and asset monetisation and a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) to bring down the operational expenditure of both telcos.
The government had also planned to merge the two ailing telcos but decided to defer the decision in January this year due to various challenges involved in the process.
MTNL offers services in Mumbai and Delhi, while BSNL provides services in the rest of the country.
BSNL’s losses narrowed to Rs 7,441 crore in 2020-21 from Rs 15,500 crore in 2019-20. However, BSNL’s debt still stands at around Rs 30,000 crore.
“The meeting is of the unanimous view that PK Purwar…is mainly responsible for the all-round failure of the company and could not do anything for its revival. Rather MTNL has collapsed now. So, there is no possibility of BSNL’s revival under the leadership of Purwar,” the unions said in the circular.
BSNL cannot compete with private telcos–Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — due to the unavailability of 4G services. Its plan to launch 4G has been impacted by bureaucratic delays and the cancellation of a tender to select vendors for the pan-India 4G network.
The state-run national telco’s survival and competitiveness depend on the launch of 4G services. It aims to roll out 4G networks commercially within ten months of successful completion of trials by local companies. Interestingly, home-grown vendors Tech Mahindra, HFCL and L&T that were approved to participate in the trials are struggling to get their indigenous 4G-stack ready as their joint partner, Pertsol, might not be prepared with its 4G core technology.
BSNL’s unions alleged that Purwar could have launched 4G services before April 2020 by upgrading 49,300 mobile towers, which have 4G compatible technology already installed by the earlier management.
Purwar, they said, did not take any action other than giving one date after another viz. January 1, 2020, March 1, 2020, April 1, 2020, etc., for launching 4G services.
“Not only that, Purwar…had even strongly opposed the steps taken by the then director (consumer mobility) for the upgradation of the towers. The earlier management had farsightedly procured 4G compatible equipment and installed it in the system,” AUAB said in the circular.
The unions also alleged that employees continued to face delays in salary disbursement despite around 80,000 employees leaving BSNL by opting for the VRS scheme. In October 2019, BSNL had 1,53,000 employees in the country.
“He has now made it known that disbursement of salary to the employees is not his first priority,” AUAB said.
The unions have also alleged that the CMD has imposed an “undeclared ban on promotion” of BSNL employees, thereby “dooming their future”.
BSNL and MTNL are facing operational issues due to a staff crunch, which is a result of the VRS, as per media reports. Both telcos recently asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) if employees who had taken “voluntary retirement” under the scheme could be rehired as consultants to support daily operations.
Employees said that their workload has increased after the VRS and further alleged that the BSNL CMD is “taking steps to further cut down the employee strength massively in the name of restructuring.”