The unions of state-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) have launched a two-day strike, starting today, over the government’s failure to act to revive the loss-making operator, the Economic Times writes. Mr Namboodiri, a spokesperson for the BSNL unions explained the workers’ stance: ‘BSNL has been running in losses to meet the government’s commitments. In 2000, BSNL had cash of around INR400 billion (USD6.37 billion), but all the money has been taken by the government in the form of interest and spectrum price. The revival of BSNL is a must for the interest of consumers.’ According to the official, the unions gave the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) five months’ notice of the plan to strike, and have sought meetings with telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on five occasions, but no action has been taken.
Mr Namboodiri laid the blame for the telco’s current difficulties at the government’s feet: ‘The government made promises but did not keep [them]. It gave BSNL a notional loan of INR75 billion in 2000 and took back INR125 billion at an interest rate of 14.5%. In the 2010 spectrum auction, all of the private operators were given the opportunity to bid in circles of their choice, but BSNL was not given any choice.’ Moving on to more recent grievances, the spokesperson noted that: ‘INR12.5 billion allotted to BSNL in lieu of access deficit charges for providing loss-making connection for 2012-2013 is still pending payment.’ The official claims that the operator is losing around INR100 billion annually on rural landline connections, ‘just to meet the government’s commitments,’ adding that if the government could bear that cost, the provider could begin to turn a profit once more.