“We support RSS & BJP ideology but will oppose them on policy”
“There are more than one and a half lakh direct employees of BSNL, and thousands of retired employees as well as contract labor – we will all oppose the ruling government because their policies have hurt each of us,” was the rallying cry of the huge pan-Indian group of protesters, “The Government has deliberately weakened its own companies to favor private players,” they feel.
The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, or BSNL for short, was launched in September 2000 amid much fanfare under the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in response to the backward and messy telecom infrastructure and services in existence then. For the short time after its inception for 5-6 years, it did remarkably well but started to decline in profitability since.
(Urmila Bansi, Meena Pateria & Janki Yadav from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh)
“The Government has not been serious about making BSNL profitable,” assert the protesters, “There is no reason for the company not to do well otherwise – we have a huge physical asset base, the government can find means to rationally fund and advance the company, but it is interested in promoting private players,” they claim.
“We are not living on government money,” says Meena Mehta from Gujarat, “We earn our money.”
“Exactly,” her colleague Ravi, also from Gujarat adds, “We provide landlines, hotlines, internet even in remote places like the Andamans; we work in mountainous and Naxal areas – it is the government that wants us to fail.”
(Swapan Chakravarty, Linesman from Murshidabad, West Bengal)
As news about possible lay-offs, introducing Voluntary Retirement Schemes (VRS), breaking up of BSNL started doing the rounds more thickly since last year, it rattled the employees, and they got together to demand for the Government’s public sector company to be kept afloat, culminating in the massive rally on April 05 at Jantar Mantar.
There was palpable nervousness with buses full of security personnel deployed to manage the rally, but BSNL employees were disciplined and organized despite their passionate, deafening sloganeering and cheering.
At the end of the day, Additional Secretary at the Department of Telecom (DoT), Anshu Prakash met with BSNL Union representatives, promising to look into their demands, as well as of regular meetings between DoT and BSNL Employees Union.
“The Government has a duty towards its own companies first, they can make BSNL work if they want – that is what we want,” said a group of employees from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.