June 17, 2021 3:09:56 am
More than a year after nearly 93,000 officials from state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) opted for the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) offered by the Central government, the two companies are facing operational issues due to a staff crunch, sources in know of the development said.
To overcome the challenge, various field and other attached offices of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have written to the Telecom Ministry, seeking clarification whether the employees who had opted for VRS could be “rehired as consultants”.
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 consultant until it examines the matter, a senior government official said.
“This matter is presently under examination in DoT HQs (headquarters) and guidelines in this respect would be issued as and when the decision on this matter is taken. Till then, applications of retirees of BSNL/MTNL under VRS-2019 may not be considered for engagement as consultants,” an official communication of the DoT said. The Indian Express has reviewed a copy of the communication.
The VRS scheme for BSNL and MTNL employees was approved by the Central government in October 2019 as part of the restructuring and revival plan of the company.
Of the 1,53,000 employees working for BSNL when the VRS scheme was approved in October 2019, over half — 78,569 employees in all — had opted to retire, while at MTNL, as many as 14,400 employees, which then was nearly 80 per cent of the total staff strength at the company, had opted to retire.
Most of the employees at BSNL and MTNL who had opted for the VRS were in the non-executive category and in the age group of 55-60 years, DoT officials had then said, adding that the wage bill for BSNL would be cut in half, while that at MTNL would come down by as much as 75 per cent.
For the employees at both the state-run telecom companies, the VRS was opened for a month starting November 4. The last date for employees who had opted for the VRS at both the telcos was January 31. Any employee, aged 50 or above, at both these state-run firms was eligible to opt for the scheme.
The lump sum compensation or ex-gratia payment to be given to employees of BSNL and MTNL has been fixed at 35 days of salary for each year in service and 25 days of salary for each year left until retirement.
The first instalment of the compensation, which would be 50 per cent of the total payment, was to be paid in 2020-21 while the second instalment is likely to be disbursed over the period of this financial year.
While several employees at BSNL and MTNL have received the first instalment of their VRS payments, the second one has been delayed in most cases, owing to expenditure cuts following the economic downturn due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In the Budget for 2020-21, the government had allocated Rs 37,278 crore in total to meet the VRS payment obligations as well as funds for capital infusion in BSNL and MTNL. Of this, Rs 13,194 crore was allocated for the implementation and for ex-gratia payments to employees who had opted for the VRS scheme, while Rs 20,410 crore had been allocated for capital infusion for 4G spectrum for BSNL and MTNL.
The revised estimates for the last fiscal, however, show that while the government spent Rs 13,366 crore for the VRS scheme, no amount was spent in capital infusion for either of the state-run telcos. For the current fiscal, the government has again allocated a sum of Rs 20,410 crore intended to be spent for capital infusion and 4G spectrum allocation. For the VRS schemes, a sum of Rs 3,000 crore has been allocated.
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