Modi govt jumps to rescue corporates in telecom sector even as it systematically sidelined public sector BSNL

Seven years after private players began offering 4G service, BSNL subscribers still don’t have access to it. Now, Finance Minister has declared that 5G will be rolled out only by private players

Photo Courtesy: social media
Photo Courtesy: social media

P Abhimanyu

While placing the Budget in Parliament, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proudly announced that 5G service would be launched in the country this financial year. In the same breath, she announced that it would be launched only by private telecom companies. This implies that public sector BSNL is going to be deprived of 5G technology.

It is a well-known fact that the Modi government discriminated against BSNL during the rollout of 4G technology too. Seven years after 4G service became widely available, BSNL is unable to offer it to its subscribers.

The employees and officers of BSNL are continuously organizing struggles, demanding wherewithal to launch 4G service immediately and 5G service on time. However, these have fallen on deaf ears.

The Finance Minister stated that the government would make a capital infusion of Rs 44,720 crore in BSNL for the upgradation of technology. This was greatly hyped up by the media.

However, the reality is that the Modi government has already maimed BSNL by not allowing it to launch its 4G service. Now, through this capital infusion, the government is only going to provide crutches to BSNL.

4G service was launched in India in 2014 by private telecom companies. The government has 100 per cent stake in BSNL. Hence, it was obligatory on the part of the government to allocate 4G spectrum to BSNL. But the Modi government did not do it. It was only after prolonged agitations by its employees that the government took a decision in October 2019 to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL.

BSNL has 4G compatible BTSs (Base Transceiver Stations), numbering 49,300. After a decision was taken by the government to allot 4G spectrum to BSNL, within three or four months, these BTSs could have been upgraded into full-fledged 4G BTSs and BSNL could have launched a pan-India 4G service.

All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) demanded and continuously pressurised the govt that these BTSs should be upgraded, so that BSNL could immediately launch its 4G service. However, the government did not allow BSNL to upgrade these BTSs. Had this upgradation been allowed, BSNL could have launched its 4G service at least two years ago. The financial position of BSNL would have also greatly improved. But this was not done.

After permission was denied for the upgradation of its towers, in March 2020, BSNL floated a tender to procure 50,000 BTSs. However, this was cancelled after the Centre told BSNL that it should not procure equipment from global vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, etc, but only from Indian vendors. It is known to everyone that no Indian telecom equipment manufacturer possesses 4G technology. The government is also aware of this. Still, the government imposed this condition on BSNL only to ensure that BSNL does not start its 4G service!

When all private telecom companies like Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone Idea procure their equipment from global vendors, why should BSNL alone be told to procure its equipment from Indian vendors? This is nothing but a conspiracy by the Modi government to stop BSNL from launching its 4G service, so that the private telecom companies can flourish at the cost of BSNL.

It is only because of this conspiracy that BSNL has not been able to launch its 4G service even today.

Now, the same government is giving Rs 44,720 crore to BSNL for launching 4G service. This is nothing but providing crutches to BSNL so that it can limp along.

Now, the Finance Minister has said that only private operators will start 5G service. So, once again, BSNL is going to be discriminated against and sidelined. The question is, how long will the government discriminate against BSNL in favour of private players?

On October 24, 2019, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement, according to which the private telecom companies were directed to pay Rs 1.69 lakh crore to the government as AGR dues. In this, the share of Vodafone Idea alone is Rs 58,254 crore. Consequently, Vodafone Idea went to the brink of bankruptcy. However, the Modi government swiftly came out with a rescue plan. According to this, the spectrum payment and the AGR dues payment were allowed to be deferred for four years. In addition to this, the government gave an option to convert the interest on the deferred spectrum payment and AGR dues into equity.

Accepting the decision of the government, the Board of Vodafone Idea has allotted equity to the government, in lieu of the payment of interest of Rs 16,000 crore. In this way, the government of India has now become the biggest shareholder of Vodafone idea, holding 35.8 per cent of the equity of the company.

This is a classic example of the extent to which this government can go to save corporates in the telecom industry.

However, even after availing all help being extended by the government, private telecom companies never hesitate to loot people. From November 26, 2021 onwards, Airtel and Vodafone Idea have raised their tariffs by a whopping 25 per cent. Similarly, from December 1, 2021 onwards, Reliance Jio raised its tariff by 20 per cent.

But the BSNL did not raise its tariffs.

Even though BSNL doesn’t offer 4G technology, in December 2021, it added 23 lakh new mobile customers. In January 2022, it added 25 lakh new mobile customers.

The existence of BSNL as a vibrant public sector company is very much required in the interest of the people of this country. Hence, all possible pressure must be brought to bear on the government to ensure that BSNL is not starved technologically.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal

Courtesy: People’s Democracy

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