Save BSNL, Save Public Sector in the larger public interest

New Delhi, February 26 : Yesterday, we learnt of the death by suicide of the 44th contract employee of the BSNL, who have been agitating for their due wages for more than a year now. The real culprit is the union government which has almost dismantled and demolished the profit-making BSNL, which had a countrywide presence and contributed massive profit to the state exchequer. Last month, NAPM and other organizations saathis including Medha Patkar, Avik Saha, Amita Bag, Manoj Thakur attended a solidarity protest with the workers in Kolkata and also wrote to the CM, seeking a dialogue which has not materialized till date. 

Like ‘farmers suicides’, these are also systemic murders due to a State hell bent on pursuing neo-liberal policy at any cost, by dismantling all public sector entities.

This tragedy has been unleashed due to the central government unabashedly pushing divestment of the public sector on the advice of NITI Ayog and other agencies. These pro-growth, corporatization and pro-privatization views are reflected in the government’s budget and policies. BSNL has been systematically not allowed to grow and expand its reach over the years. The government has consistently favoured private players in the telecom sector through policy measures. It’s a shame that BSNL has not been granted the 4G spectrum, even after four years it rolled out in the country.

BSNL is simply denied the same, thus preventing them from succeeding in the highly competitive environment over other private companies. The comprehensive dismantling of BSNL has affected the contract labourers to the most extent. They have neither been retrenched nor not paid the wages, while thousands have been forced out, many continue to be in employment without wages or work for nearly 14 to 18 months now. This grave situation is causing severe pauperization and leading to heart wrecking number of suicides which continue till date.

It needs to be known that 78,569 BSNL employees retired w.e.f. 01.02.2020, under the VRS-2019, thereby reducing the BSNL’s employees strength by half. In such a situation, the role of BSNL’s experienced contract workers became crucial for the effective maintenance of BSNL’s services. But, surprisingly, the BSNL Management has decided to retrench the contract workers massively. Additionally, the management has also taken the ill-advised decision to outsource all the contract workers’ works.

We condemn and pledge to oppose such vulgar ways and means adopted by the Union government with the idea of benefiting the big crony capitalists. Such privatization paradigm has taken a toll on BSNL, BPCL, public ports, airports, LIC, public sector banks and others. In each of these sectors, divestment of shares and transfer of properties to a handful of private corporations have created havoc in the lives of millions of workers in the country.

The profit-making BSNL with thousands of crores’ property is not promoted to progress and left to peril. We appeal to the secular political parties who are in the electoral fray to raise the BSNL workers issue and all other genuine issues to save the public sector and its employee at all cost.

  • We urgently demand that the union government and Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad immediately resolve the issues and ensure immediate payment of arrears and all due benefits to the struggling employees.
  • BSNL be provided all help and policy support from the government including 4G spectrum allocation to retain its competitive advantage.
  • Stop the forced retirement, outsourcing key jobs, payment of benefits and arrears to all its employees and finally divestment and privatization of BSNL and other public sectors.

In a message at an election meeting held in Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee criticized the Centre for such a criminal action and its impacts. This is welcome, but we urge the State government to support their struggle and explore interim relief measures for the families of the workers facing immense hardships and misery.

We salute the workers of BSNL and other private sector enterprises. They are fighting with their spirit of martyrdom. We expect that the youth, progressive intellectuals, and workers from other unorganized sectors will join the struggle against privatization, which is necessary to save our country, its people, and their livelihood.

Contact :

NAPM India