Update on December 3: The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) has decided to postpone its indefinite strike to December 10th, reports The Economic Times. It will go ahead with the strike if its issues are not resolved in the proposed meeting with Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha. However, the report does not mention the date of the scheduled meeting. The decision was taken after the employee unions met the Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan and observed a progress in the issues they have been raising. Earlier, the AUAB had scheduled a strike which would start today. This was over the allotment of 4G spectrum, pension revision and payment of pension contribution by BSNL as per the government rule.

**

Earlier on November 30: The employees and officers of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) are going on an indefinite strike starting December 3 against the non-allocation 4G spectrum to BSNL among the other demands. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), which has called for the strike, believes that the government is doing this in order to help Reliance Jio to wipe out all its competition. A part of its statement says-

“BSNL is a 100% government company. It is already four years since 4G service is rolled out by the private telecom companies. However, BSNL has not started the 4G service, since it is not allotted with 4G spectrum by the government. The AUAB is organising struggles for the last one year demanding the allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL. But, the government has turned a deaf ear to this demand, with the ulterior motive of preventing the public sector company from putting up an effective competition to Reliance Jio.”

AUAB: Jio causing financial woes in the telecom sector

The AUAB blamed the predatory pricing by Mukesh Ambani owned Reliance Jio for the crisis in telecom sector. In its statement, the union said that big companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea were running in losses and laden with massive debts of around Rs 8 lakh crores. As a result, Vodafone merged with Idea and smaller telecom companies like Aircel, Tata Teleservices, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infocomm, Telenor were forced to shut.

With it’s huge financial muscle, Reliance Jio is offering services at “below-cost” rates. The whole game plan of Reliance Jio is to wipe out its competitors. Once the target is achieved, Reliance Jio will “loot the people by steeply raising the call and data charges,” the statement added.

AUAB: Centre patronising Jio

AUAB also accused the ruling BJP government of openly patronising Reliance Jio.

The statement says that on September 6, 2016, “when Reliance Jio started it’s services, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared with folded hands in the front page advertisements in all the leading national dailies, appealing to the citizens of the country to avail the services of Reliance Jio. These advertisements were a clear message to the entire nation that Reliance Jio is very close to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that, no one should come in the way of Reliance Jio in achieving it’s goal.”

Balbir Singh, the President of the BSNL Employees Union, told MediaNama, “When it was brought to the notice of the Competition Commission (of India), what happened? They imposed a meagre amount of Rs 500 as fine on Reliance for using the Prime Minister’s photograph.”

The statement goes on to say that JS Deepak, the then Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT),  was “dumped” to the Department of Commerce for pointing out the impact of predatory pricing by Jio.

Other demands

The immediate demand “to save BSNL” also includes implementation of the government rule in respect to the payment of pension contribution by BSNL, wage revision of the employees and pension revision of the retirees from January 1, 2017. In 2017, the BSNL unions and associations went on strike twice. The statement says that Minister of State and Communication invited AUAB for talks in February. But in November, eight months after sitting on assurances, the DoT rejected the demands.

**

AUAB’s full statement below:

Indefinite strike to save BSNL.

The entire officers and workers of BSNL are going on an indefinite strike from 3rd December, 2018. The AUAB (All Unions and Associations of BSNL), the umbrella organisation of all the associations of the officers and unions of workers, is spearheading the strike.

Demands of the strike include the immediate allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL, for rolling out it’s 4G service, implementation of the government rule in respect of payment of pension contribution by BSNL, wage revision of the employees and pension revision of the retirees, from 01.01.2017.

As of now, the whole telecom industry is gripped with a crisis. Big private companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are running in huge losses. These companies are also laden with massive debts. The total debt of these telecom companies is in the range of Rs.8 lakh crores. As a result of this crisis, Vodafone has already got merged with Idea. Smaller private telecom companies like Aircel, Tata Teleservices, Anil Ambani owned Reliance Infocomm, Telenor, etc., have got closed down.

All these have happened due to the predatory pricings of the Mukesh Ambani owned Reliance Jio, which started it’s services in September, 2016. With it’s huge financial muscle, Reliance Jio is offering services at “below-cost” rates. The whole game plane of Reliance Jio is to wipe out it’s competitors, which includes the state owned BSNL. Once this target is achieved, Reliance Jio will show it’s real face. It will loot the people by steeply raising the call and data charges. It is a matter of deep concern that, Reliance Jio is being openly patronised by the Narendra Modi government.

On 06th September, 2016, when Reliance Jio started it’s services, Prime Minister Naredra Modi appeared with folded hands in the front page advertisements in all the leading national dailies, appealing to the citizens of the country to avail the services of Reliance Jio. These advertisements were a clear message to the entire nation that, Reliance Jio is very close to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that, no one should come in the way of Reliance Jio, in achieving it’s goals.

The one man who dared to come in the way of Reliance Jio, had to pay the price. He was J.S.Deepak, a senior IAS officer, who was the then Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications. He dared to point out how the predatory pricings of Reliance Jio were eating into the revenue to the government, consequent to the drastic fall in the revenue collections of all the telecom companies. (Telecom companies pay license fee and spectrum charges to the government based on their revenue collection.) J.S.Deepak wrote to the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), demanding action on Reliance Jio, for adopting predatory pricings. As a result, J.S Deepak was instantaneously shunted out of the DoT, and was dumped in the Department of Commerce. This was a clear signal given by the Narendra Modi government, as to what would happen to any one who dares to speak against Rliance Jio.

To enable Reliance Jio to achieve it’s goal of wiping out all other telecom service providers, the government is engaged in the nefarious game of clipping the wings of BSNL. BSNL is a 100% government company. It is already four years since 4G service is rolled out by the private telecom companies. However, BSNL has not started the 4G service, since it is not allotted with 4G spectrum by the government. The AUAB is organising struggles for the past one year, demanding allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL. But, the government has turned a deaf ear to this demand, with the ulterior motive of preventing the public sector company from putting up an effective competition to Reliance Jio.

It is very pertinent to mention here that, the employees have played a significant role in strengthening BSNL. They have launched various movements, to motivate the employees to improve the quality of BSNL’s services, and also to massively involve them in the Company’s marketing activities. The “Customer Delight Year”, “Service With A Smile”, “BSNL At Your Door Steps” are the movements launched by the unions and associations of BSNL in the recent years. As a result of these efforts, noteworthy improvement has come in BSNL’s quality of services, which is reflected in it’s increased revenue and customer base.

BSNL was in a loss of more than Rs.8,800 crores in 2011-12. However, due to the combined efforts taken by the employees and the Management, the started making operating profit (EBIDTA) in 2014-15. The Company made an operating profit of Rs.672.57 crores in 2014-15. This increased to Rs.3,854.48 crores in 2015-16. Even after the entry of Reliance Jio in September, 2016, BSNL earned an operating profit of Rs.1,684.00 crores in 2016-17.

BSNL’s improved performance is reflected in the expansion of it’s customer base also. For example, the Company’s mobile customers increased by 11.5% in 2017. During the same year, Airtel’s customers increased by only 9.13%, while Vodafone’s customers increased by 3.83% and Idea’s customers increased by 3.14%. It must be remembered that all these achievements are made by BSNL without 4G technology and with only 2G and 3G technologies, while all the private companies are armed with 4G technology.

Apart from the allotment of 4G spectrum, the AUAB is also demanding the implementation of the government’s rule in the matter of BSNL’s payment of Pension Contribution. It is atrocious that, the Narendra Modi government is violating it’s own rule, and is fleecing a huge amount from BSNL every year, in the name of Pension Contribution. This is seriously affecting the financial health of the Company.

The AUAB is also demanding wage revision to the employees and pension revision to the retirees, from 01-01-2017. The Unions and associations went on strike twice in 2017, apart from organising various other struggles. As a result, the Minister of State for Communications invited the AUAB leaders for talks on 24th February,2018 and gave assurances to settle all the demands. However, after sitting on the assurances for eight long months, the Department of Telecommunications has sent a letter to the BSNL Management 6th November, 2017, rejecting the important demands of the AUAB. This has made the indefinite strike by the BSNL employees inevitable.