New Delhi: The divestment of state-run telecom firm Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has been put on hold after the government told nearly 300,000 employees of the firm, who went on strike on Tuesday against the proposal, that it won’t sell a stake without their consent.
“We have assured them that the issue of disinvestment will be referred to a GoM (group of ministers) and they would be consulted before taking other decisions with regard to BSNL,” Union telecom minister A. Raja said after meeting union leaders. The strike was later called off.
A committee headed by Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Prime Minister, has suggested that the government should sell 30% of its stake in the firm and retrench at least 100,000 employees, or one-third of its strength, to improve its financial health.
BSNL swung from a profit before tax of Rs8,154 crore in 2006-07 to a loss (before tax) of Rs2,611 crore in 2009-2010.
The panel, which included Housing Development Finance Corp. chairman Deepak Parekh and department of telecommunications secretary P.J. Thomas, has also recommended the creation of subsidiaries for the telecom firm’s real estate and passive infrastructure (telecom towers) apart from a venture fund.
The employees went on strike on the day the telecom commission was to meet to discuss the committee’s recommendations. The meeting has been rescheduled for 7 May.
“We are firmly against the cutting down of employees as well as the IPO (initial public offer),” said V.A.N. Namboodiri, convener of the joint action committee of BSNL Associations and Unions. “We are against the dividing of the company.”
Besides the minister and the union leaders, Tuesday’s 2 hour meeting included Thomas, BSNL chairman and managing director Kuldip Goyal, and other senior officials of the department of telecommunications (DoT).
DoT assured BSNL employees that they will have a say in the future of the company.
“On the issues of disinvestment of BSNL, voluntary retirement scheme and unbundling of last mile copper pairs, the BSNL unions have been assured that all stakeholders will be taken into confidence,” it said in a statement.
“BSNL has been allowed to procure 10 million mobile lines immediately in view of the fact that 20 million lines are in the process of installation,” the DoT statement said, conceding another demand of the unions.
The meeting agreed to implement new pay scales for non-executive employees.
PTI contributed to this story.