State-run telecom operator BSNL’s employees during the hunger strike on Monday demanded immediate implementation of the revival plan, including 4G spectrum allocation and payment of January wages. “We are asking the government to fast track the revival package including Sovereign guarantee, 4G spectrum allocation and disbursal of January salary,” Aftab Ahmad Khan, president, Sanchar Nigam Executives Association (SNEA) told ET Telecom. The All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB), the umbrella organisation representing employee unions of state telecom operator had called for the hunger strike to protest against government lack of interest in implementing the revival package.
Khan, however, said that a Letter of Comfort from the Finance ministry would help the telco secure necessary credit from banks ahead of 4G rollout.
BSNL Aims to Ready its Network and Infrastructure
BSNL wants to ready its network and infrastructure instead of sitting idle for airwaves as per Khan. He said they are already in dialogue with older suppliers such as Finish Nokia, and China’s ZTE. However, both Nokia and ZTE were reluctant to partner with BSNL for 4G rollout due to non-clearance of previous dues.
BSNL has already approved tender to secure equipment for 4G rollout and is likely to be put in the public domain by the company to attract prospective bidders.
In the absence of a sovereign guarantee, the telecom operator is finding it hard to raise money as ongoing the AGR issue has made banks more cautious and they are unwilling to lend money to state telco.
BSNL Revival Package Was Announced by Cabinet Last Year
Last October, Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet had approved a Rs 69,000 crore revival package for both state-run telecom companies BSNL and MTNL. The package included Voluntary Retirement Scheme, allotment of the 4G spectrum, issuing a sovereign guarantee for raising Rs 15000 crore funds via long-term bonds, monetisation of assets.
However, so far, only VRS has been implemented, and around 78,569 BSNL employees sent home. The 4G spectrum hasn’t been allocated and sovereign guarantee is also awaited. Also, the monetisation of assets of the state-run operators is moving slowly.
The officials, however, also say that the government has already exhausted the sovereign guarantee limit for this financial year. The new one, therefore, would not be issued earlier than the next financial year starting April 2020.