Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, a staunch proponent of no-loss theory vis-à-vis the 2G scam, has unveiled the New Telecom Policy (NTP) 2011. This has come out in the midst of charges against the erstwhile FM P Chidambaram for his complicity in 2G scam, differences within the UPA cabinet on the issue and CBI raids in the former IT minister Dayanidhi Maran’s houses and offices. The policy’s rhetoric about ‘maximizing public good’, ‘enhancing equity and inclusiveness’ and ‘furthering the national development agenda’, however, cannot protect the UPA from the continuing loss of credibility and public anger against the mega scams and cover-ups.
The concluding para of the draft policy, which is available for public feedback, says that ‘direct revenue generation would continue to remain a secondary objective’. Before one could appreciate the UPA Policy’s priority for service to the people over revenue, the next sentence promptly hastens to emphasize ‘the predominant role of the private sector’. Thus as a policy, private sector will be boosted to spread its greedy grip on the telecom sector and consequently the government would get no revenue!
In the earlier paragraphs, the policy explains how it intends to tend the private sector by pressing the government into its service, by evolving a framework for finance sector, facilitating access to financial resources on favorable terms and fiscal incentives required by indigenous manufacturers of telecom products and R&D institutions, promoting domestic production of telephone equipments, providing preferential market access for domestically manufactured telecommunication products including mobile devices, One Nation–One License etc. Now who else can be these ‘domestic’ forces other than Tata and Reliance?
Quite understandably, the ASSOCHAM president is happy about the “declaration that revenue generation will be a secondary objective, and the government’s intention to ‘rationalize’ taxes and levies.” The business interests in the country do not find anything in NTP to raise new concerns and it is a welcome framework for them. The policy promises to abolish national roaming charges for mobile services. If the roaming charges are abolished, the corporates in the telecom sector would lose revenue to the tune of approximately Rs.20,000 crores. And so the policy is silent about any time frame for this.
The policy lists the achievement of the earlier telecom policy put forth in 1999. What it avoids to mention is the corporate plunder in the sector in these 11 years of consistent implementation by UPA and NDA regimes in the centre.
Behind the façade of this declared policy for the telecom sector, the ministry has an undeclared policy for the 3 lakh employees in the government telecom sector, which is being implemented over a period of years. Measures to systematically weaken the PSU include 7 years delay to allow the PSU in mobile services, abolition of access deficit charges that the private players were paying for the PSU, USO fund being stopped. Apart from this, the policy for the work force is being implemented piecemeal, and indirectly, through various dubious methods. These measures together are spelling doom for the livelihood of employees in the government telecom sector.
The 2G scam is notorious for the huge loss to the exchequer. Kanimozhi, Raja, Maran, Chidambaram and Manmohan are implicated in this scam. But in truth they are all guilty of an even bigger crime - of rendering the lives of 3 lakh BSNL employees and their families vulnerable.
BSNL is a disturbing example of how an army of lakhs and lakhs of PSU employees, who are known for their glorious struggles against the anti-worker measures of the different central governments, are facing a large scale assault, which is a culmination of calculated deprivation and denial of their hard-won rights in a phased out manner, which were hardly met by serious protests.
BSNL has entered into an agreement with Swan Telecom, an Anil Ambani group company in 2008 for infrastructure sharing, as soon as it was allocated 2G spectrum. When 2G scam and the cover ups have hit a new low with the UPA government running out of ideas to defend its actions on the issue, a Congress Rajya Sabha MP has recently sent a letter to the UPA government asking how BSNL has entered into an infrastructure sharing contract with Swan Telecom, when the company does not entertain such a contract with any other company. The UPA Government asked for an explanation from the Ministry. The Minister for State Milind Deora has informed the PMO on September 7, 2011 that it is true that the company has entered such an agreement and that there is no irregularity.
This contract would enable Swan Telecom to use the infrastructure of BSNL which was raised by the sweat and blood of Indian working people over years, pay a meager sum as charges, and mint profits. When competition is God in capitalist society would any company share its infrastructure with a competing company? Would Reliance share its infrastructure with any government company?
This is only one of the examples for the policy pursued by the PSU to augment its growth! With the CMD entering into a MOU for infrastructure sharing, a CGM allows over 300 lines working in his name for Maran’s residence, and some officers entertain as many understandings that their power permits. Thus the policies only help the private players in the sector and stunt growth of the government company.
The cumulative result is loss, and the employees who are in no way responsible for this loss, have to bear the consequences. If they lost the right to bonus last year, this year medical allowance and LTC are withdrawn. Much more was lost before last year. Every employee would have lost somewhere from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh by way of delayed implementation of pay revision, notional promotion etc., and one can compute the amount of money the ministry has denied for the 3 lakh workers together. The management says that it is constrained to take such measures as the company has incurred loss over Rs.6000 crores. When the private sector in the telecom is making huge profit, how come a government company, which has such a mammoth infrastructure, would incur loss? If, as a policy, the company is left to its ruin to facilitate the growth of private sector, what can the government expect other than loss?
Now with the argument of loss, and in the absence any meaningful protest against the anti-workers measures all these years, the management has proposed VRS for one lakh workers as recommended by Sam Pitroda, PM’s personal advisor. Here too, VRS is projected as a measure to save the company from making further loss, as the company has to pay 46.5% as salary for the employees. The ministry which is working overtime to facilitate the growth of private sector in telecom, is not able to accept the fact of employees are getting pay hike after 6th Pay Commission implementation. It is another issue that even these recommendations are yet to be completely realized for the BSNL employees. The ministry is thus trying to cover up its pro-corporate measures and its effective implementation of anti-workers measures all in the name of cost to the company.
This latest attack of VRS has shaken the work force and it is very unfortunate that the unions, including the left TUs in BSNL, while taking up token protests, are not gearing up for any meaningful struggle against VRS.
Thus one lakh permanent employment in a PSU, which is a very high order in these days of contractualisation, will be lost in the coming year. This would then be followed by the much-cherished plan of the ministry for calling up IPOs for the company. Subsequently Tatas and Ambanis will plunder the company with a wealth worth more than Rs. 1 lakh crores with no hindrance. The ministry already has a successful example in VSNL, which has disappeared and is now known only as a company of Tata.
The TUs with strength of 3 lakh workers, who have a history of glorious struggles and a readiness to fight, can do wonders in reversing these policies and set a powerful example.
Now it is a question before the TUs in BSNL, whether to discourage the workers by citing examples of Air India, which is not paying its employees their monthly salary, or kindle the fighting spirit of the employees by invoking the example of the young workers of Maruti; whether to drive the employees to fill in the blanks as the management wishes or think of the larger interest of the country; whether to convince the workers about their existential crisis or to inspire them for a struggle against the policies; whether to keep blaming each other or to work for unity and turn the employees’ anger against the Ministry; and whether to resort to token protests or meaningful struggle.

Even at this stage, the work force of the PSU can rise up to save not only their livelihood and the wealth of the country. One can only hope that the TUs rise to the occasion.