The Central Government’s recent order mandating all departments, ministries and public sector units to use telecom services of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) might not bring much change in the fortunes of the State-run telecom companies, as it does not cover mobile connections.
Some departments and public sector units have contracted private companies for the mobile connections for their official use. For instance, last year, Reliance Jio bagged the contract for the Closed User Group (CUG) mobile connection network for the Indian Railways. The Railway CUG network has 3.78 lakh users, in addition to 7,200 extra connections for bulk SMS purposes.
Though the BSNL Employees’ Union (BSNLEU) has welcomed the government’s move to mandate the use of BSNL/MTNL in departments and ministries, it has demanded that this should be extended to mobile connections too.
“THE BSNLEU had made this demand more than a decade back. It is heartening that the government has accepted it finally. But, at the same time, exempting mobile connections from this order is certainly to help private players like Reliance Jio. Most of the government ministries and departments already use BSNL landlines. So, the increase in connections from this latest order might not be considerable. But, we stand to gain much from mandating mobile connections from BSNL in these departments, which has not been done,” said C.Santhosh Kumar, State Secretary of the BSNLEU.
Many see the latest move as a ploy on the government’s part to cool the tempers at the continued denial of permission to BSNL to implement its 4G services. Almost all the major trade unions as well as associations of the BSNL were on the protest path after the government cancelled the company’s 4G tender in June. A proposal to upgrade close to 50,000 2G and 3G towers to 4G was also shot down.
The 4G tender was issued in March after much delay. However, a group called Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council (TEPC) objected to the tender saying that it is not favourable to Indian companies and goes against ‘Make in India’ norms.
The tender was later cancelled in 4G. No fresh tender has been issued till now, as the condition to choose an Indian company remains a hurdle. The employees say that there are hardly any Indian companies capable of meeting the BSNL’s specifications. They also point to the fact that all private companies depend on foreign manufacturers, and none of them had to face any such conditions from the government.