India’s state-owned telcos, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), are reportedly facing operational issues due to a staff crunch. The staff crunch results from its much-hyped voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), which the government offered as part of the revival plan aimed at reducing expenditure.
Both telcos have now 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.
“The DoT has, for now, asked all the field and attached offices to stop any such recruitment of BSNL and MTNL staff who had taken VRS as a consultant until it examines the matter,” a senior government official was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.
According to official communication reviewed by the publication, the telecom department is currently examining the situation and would soon issue guidelines and accordingly take a decision.
“Till then, applications of retirees of BSNL/MTNL under VRS-2019 may not be considered for engagement as consultants,” the department’s official communication read.
The VRS scheme was announced in October 2019 as part of a mega revival plan for both struggling telecom operators, which also included 4G spectrum allocation and asset monetisation. The government had then said that the wage bill for BSNL would be reduced to half under the scheme, while that at MTNL would come down by as much as 75%.
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. However, India’s IT and telecom minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said that close cooperation and service integration between BSNL and MTNL were established.
MTNL offers services in Mumbai and Delhi, while BSNL offers services in the rest of the country.
Around 93,000 employees working with BSNL and MTNL had opted for the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) last year. In October 2019, BSNL had 153,000 employees in the country, of which 78,569 had opted for the VRS. 14,400 or 80% of MTNL employees had also opted to retire till January 31, 2020, which was the last date for employees to avail themselves of the scheme.
As per the report, most BSNL and MTNL employees who had opted for the VRS were in the non-executive category and the age group of 55-60 years.
Both telecom operators are unable to compete with private telcos – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – due to the unavailability of 4G services. Their 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.