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BSNL rises in rebellion, announces massive strike to challenge Centre-Jio bonhomie

PW Bureau

The strike is being organised to protest against the government’s failure to allot spectrum for 4G services to BSNL, thereby preventing it from competing against Jio New Delhi: Alleging that the government has been favouring Reliance Jio over other telecom providers, state-owned telecom provider, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), is going to go on an all-India indefinite strike on December 3 to protest against the government’s failure to allot spectrum for 4G services to the public sector undertaking (PSU), thereby preventing it from competing against the Reliance subsidiary.

How has BSNL been impacted?

While speaking to PSU Watch, AUAB deputy general secretary Sapan Chakraborty said that the most recent example of how BSNL has been impacted by the government’s refusal to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL is the company losing out on a big, fat tender floated by the Indian Railways. “When we enquired about why the tender was not given to us by the Railways, we were told that it was because we could not offer 4G,” said Chakraborty. PSU Watch earlier reported on how Reliance Jio had edged out Airtel and Vodafone to bag a much-coveted order from Indian Railways for powering telephone calls, messages and data usage of around 3,78,000 Railway employees. “It is already four years since 4G service was rolled out by the private telecom companies. However, BSNL has not started the 4G service, since it has not been allotted 4G spectrum by the government,” a statement released by All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), the umbrella organisation of all the associations of the officers and unions of workers, said.

Where’s the level playing field, asks the union

The statement rued that the whole telecom industry is gripped with a crisis. Big private companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are running at huge losses, primarily because of the predatory pricing schemes launched by Reliance Jio. “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,” it said. AUAB said the public sector firm has been demanding allotment of 4G spectrum 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.” Citing the example of telecom secretary JS Deepak, the Union said that the bureaucrat was shunted out of the Department of Telecom for demanding action on Reliance Jio for adopting predatory pricing. “This was a clear signal given by the Narendra Modi government, as to what would happen to anyone who dares to speak against Jio,” the statement said.

The demands

Demands of the strike include the immediate allotment of 4G spectrum to BSNL, for rolling out its 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 January 1, 2017.