SURESH KUMAR, a lineman with the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), is a worried man these days. Reason: the festival season is here and he has been getting salary in the second half of every month for quite some time now. Last month, he got his salary on September 19. “For the last couple of months, we have been at the receiving end. Not only a lineman in BSNL getting his/her salary after delay, but our senior officers are also getting salary late. We were told that government has no money and plans are being formulated to introduce voluntary retirement scheme (VRS),” said Kumar, who has to pay instalments of his house and car loans in the first week of every month.
Like Suresh Kumar, there are hundreds of employees in the Chandigarh circle of BSNL involving Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali. They are living in uncertainty. There are around 1,100 BSNL employees — both permanent and contractual — in Chandigarh circle. The BSNL offices are located in sectors 34, 17, 37 and in Manimajra in Chandigarh. In Panchkula, BSNL offices are in sectors 20 and 5. BSNL office in Mohali is located in phase-4.
Karan Chander, circle secretary of Bhartiya Telecom Employees Union, said, “Festival season is here and we are still struggling to get salaries. It is a pathetic situation. The condition of contractual employees has become worse in the last few months. They have not received their salaries for the last three months. Their salaries are between Rs 11,000 and Rs 16,000, and untimely. There are so many reasons behind the tight financial position of BSNL, which was once a respected name in the telecommunication sector. One of the reasons is unprofessional manner of Indian Telecommunication Service (ITC) officers, who are sitting on top positions.”
BSNL had paid the August salary after a lag of 18 days while July wages were footed on August 5 and February salary was paid later in March. The employees had requested the BSNL management to disburse salary early but all in vain. H S Dhillon, secretary of BSNL Employees’ Union, said, “Several talks were held with the government in the month of February but no conclusion was arrived at. The government wants to introduce voluntary retirement scheme for employees who are above 55 years. Indeed, government wants to reduce the manpower for less expenditure on salaries. Although BSNL has a daily collection of Rs 40-45 crore, mismanagement at the top level has made this organisation full of crisis.”
Principal general manager, Chandigarh Circle, BSNL, J S Sahota, said, “Indeed, there is a financial crisis within BSNL at the national level. Contractual employees are not getting salaries for a few months because BSNL was not able to release the money to contractors, who are on the panel of BSNL for supplying the manpower. Efforts are on. The problem will be resolved shortly. Even I have been getting my salary with delay for the last few months like any other BSNL employee.”
Rakesh Kapur, former executive director (network), BSNL, said, “The reason behind the financial crisis in BSNL is its huge expenditure in the remote areas, where revenue is very less. BSNL should stake its claim on Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) for upgrading its infrastructure in the faraway and remote areas in India, where only BSNL works and other telecommunication companies are not interested in going there because it is not profitable. Such areas include North-East, Andaman & Nicobar Iceland, remotest areas in Himachal Pradesh and Lakshadweep. USOF is meant for supporting the telecommunication companies working in the remotest areas like BSNL. Manpower reduction is also a positive step. BSNL has all the potential to make itself financially sound.” Kapur retired from BSNL, Delhi, this year. He resides in Manimajra, Chandigarh.
Another former officer said that the government should not waste the largest technical pool in the telecom industry and instead of focusing on their VRS, should turn its attention to reviving the BSNL. He also warned that it will not be possible for any private player or players to manage such a mammoth network.