BSNL employee unions call for nationwide hunger strike on Feb. 24 for delay in relief package

Kusum Tewari

State-run telecom firm BSNL’s employee unions have called for a nationwide hunger strike on Monday, to protest against delay in execution of the ₹69,000-crore revival package announced by the government.

“The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) is organising a country-wide hunger strike on February 24, 2020. This hunger strike is being organised to demand the expeditious implementation of the Union Cabinet’s revival package in respect of BSNL, as well as to demand settlement of the grievances of the employees,” AUAB said in a statement.

Also read | After mass retirement of staff, BSNL to outsource jobs

In October 2019, the central government approved a ₹68,751-crore revival package for loss-making BSNL and MTNL, including 4G spectrum allocation and voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), as well as their merger.

AUAB said the salient feature of the revival package is the allotment of 4G spectrum, the issuing of sovereign guarantee for raising funds to the tune of ₹15,000 crore, with share of BSNL at ₹8,500 crore and ₹6,500 crore for MTNL, by way of issuing long-term bonds, monetisation of assets and implementation of a VRS.

Also read | A delayed imperative: On BSNL-MTNL merger

“Out of these, only the VRS has been implemented, through which 78,569 BSNL employees have been sent home. It is extremely disturbing to note that, even after the lapse of nearly 4 months, 4G spectrum has not been allotted to BSNL,” statement said.

It added that the government has not yet issued the sovereign guarantee to BSNL, to enable it to raise ₹8,500 crore, by way of issuing long-term bonds.

“The process of monetisation of BSNL’s assets is also moving at snail’s pace. The Supreme Court of India’s judgment, with regards to the calculation of the AGR, has caused uncertainties in the telecom sector, due to which banks are also unwilling to extend the much-needed loans to BSNL,” the statement said.

The BSNL employees’ body said that due to the delay in the allotment of 4G spectrum and also due to the non-availability of funds, it is understood that BSNL’s 4G service is not likely to be launched before the end of 2020.

“This delay is much against the spirit of the Union Cabinet, in approving the revival package for BSNL. The attention of the Minister of Communications (Ravi Shankar Prasad) has already been drawn to the need to provide BSNL with the much-needed working capital. However, nothing has happened,” the statement said.

AUAB said that despite the relief package, employees are not getting salary on time and the wages of the contract workers have not been paid for the past 10 months.

“Under these circumstances, the AUAB has already organised country-wide lunch-hour demonstrations on February 11, 2020. In continuation of this, hunger strikes are being organised throughout the country on February 24 to urge the Department of Telecommunications and the BSNL management to take expeditious actions,” AUAB said.

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