In a U-turn, Modi govt asks BSNL to cough up the entire Rs 10,000 crore for 4G spectrum
The aggrieved state-owned BSNL was last month assured by the Modi government that 50 per cent of 4G Spectrum fee would be borne by Centre, the remaining contributed by BSNL’s equity shares
The state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has been asked to pay Rs 10,000 crore to the Narendra Modi government for the allocation of 4G spectrum, sources involved in the negotiations have revealed to National Herald.
BSNL has been involved in a protracted battle with Centre since 2016 over getting a 4G spectrum allocated. As per the negotiations that BSNL employees held with the Minister of State (MoS) for Communications on Dec 3 last year, it was agreed in principle that 50 per cent of the cost involved in buying 4G spectrum would be borne by the government. It was decided back then that the remaining Rs 5,000 (approx.) crore would be contributed by BSNL.
However, the government is learnt to have gone back on the assurance on the cost-sharing method in meetings that took place this month, say sources.
“We had proposed that Rs 5,000 crore be raised by BSNL through the method of equity shares. The remainder of the amount could have been contributed by the government through capital infusion,” sources say, reiterating BSNL’s demands.
“The (4G) spectrum fee is approximately Rs 10,000 crore,” sources say.
Getting a 4G spectrum has been one of the major demands of BSNL, which has been deprived of the technology by the Modi government. “The main reservations have been coming from the Union Finance Ministry and NITI Aayog. The NITI Aayog, in particular, has been of the view that BSNL doesn’t deserve 4G spectrum technology since it has been a loss-making PSU,” say sources.
“However, we have continued to grow our subscriber base even after getting almost no support from the government whatsoever,” say sources.
Prahlad Rai, the general secretary of All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), points towards the latest Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, which shows that BSNL was able to acquire new customers despite still offering just 3G services.
Rai notes that BSNL had been improving its financial performance in three years leading to 2016-17. “BSNL’s loss stood at Rs 8,234 crore in 2014-15, whereas it had come down Rs 3,880 crore in 2015-16. BSNL has made operational profits of Rs 672 crore, Rs 3,854 crore and Rs 1,684 crore respectively in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17,” says Rai. The fact was mentioned in the letter that AUAB had sent to the government last month as well.
“As the government is not letting us acquire 4G, we are still offering only 3G services. Despite that, our 3G speed is on par with the 4G being offered by some of the private telecom operators,” Rai tells NH.
He says that BSNL won’t be able to compete with other operators that have been capturing the 4G market, unless it gets 4G spectrum.
Rai accused the government of lying in public over the fulfilment of their demands. At least two lakh BSNL employees had threatened to go on an indefinite strike last month, before an intervention by Manoj Sinha salvaged the situation for the government.
Rai complains that the failure of the government to revise salaries of BSNL employees, as per the 3rd Pay Revision, had left the employees frustrated.
“We have still not got the 30 pc superannuation benefits, as had been advised by the 2nd PRC for PSU employees,” he adds.
Rai says that AUAB will hold a meeting on Friday to discuss further action after the government went back on its assurances earlier this month. “The operations of BSNL would be affected if we go on an indefinite strike,” he cautions.