Transfer binge to hit BSNL

Last Updated 05 November 2011, 20:40 IST

On November 8, almost the entire top management team of BSNL will be transferred to the Department of Telecom (DoT), their parent employer, creating a huge void at the top as BSNL does not have a team of managers who can takeover from them. As a result, all of BSNL’s services like fixed line telephony, mobile telephony, broadband service, high-speed broadband for enterprises and Centrex services for corporates are likely to be affected in a couple of months.

The void created by the transfer is also likely to adversely affect an ambitious broadband roll out plan of 3.22 million broadband connections across the country which was driven by the Karnataka circle of BSNL which is a pioneer in the broadband service in India.

A November 3, 2011, DoT order, issued by its Absorption Cell located at Sanchar Bhavan, New Delhi, has directed senior employees of BSNL, to whom they were deputed since 2000, to return to DoT and report to DoT’s office in New Delhi on November 8, 2011.
Actually, the effort to bring the DoT employees back to the department was on for many years, but nothing concrete happened. After the lapse of almost 11 years the Telecom Ministry suddenly issued an Office Memorandum (OM) on September 22, 2011 to the deputed employees giving an option to either get absorbed in BSNL or return to DoT.
Though the last date for exercising the option is November 8, the DoT issued the final transfer order five days in advance. Barring around 50 who opted to continue in BSNL and another 109 in Hyderabad circle who got a stay from the Hyderabad High Court when they contested the implementation of the transfer on various pecuniary reasons, nearly 1,350 DoT employees have opted to go back to DoT.
Way back in 2000, about 1,500 senior officers, mostly from Indian Telecom services (ITS), were sent to BSNL on deputation to run, manage and develop the organisation when it was converted into a corporation under the DoT. The officers, now responsible for running BSNL in 23 telecom circles in the country, form the core management teams in each circle as they are placed as Assistant General Manager (AGM), General Manager (GM) and Chief General Manager (CGM).

According to the Government of India rules, an employee can be on deputation with another organisation for a maximum of 5 years, after which the deputee can be sent back to the same organisation (or elsewhere) after a cooling period of two years. But in case of employees deputed from DoT to BSNL and also to MTNL, the service continued for 11 years under a special scheme named Deemed Deputation. 

Bigger problem
While it is important the government puts an end to the perpetual Deemed Deputation status, even the promoted officers in BSNL want them to go so that their promotions will be faster, the absence of the transformation plan and the timing of the transfer are ringing alarm bells. BSNL, once a monopoly player in the Indian telecom market, slowly started losing its hold once the industry was completely opened up to the private sector. Though BSNL was given equal opportunity, cut-throat competition from private sector players, its bloated employee cost, social obligations and inability to expand business due to extreme bureaucratic bungling in procurement of equipments and materials, have made it lose huge money in the recent years.

There is no doubt that BSNL and its 2.70 lakh employees are in big trouble. Once a blue chip government company that had a cash reserve of Rs 30,000 crore in the bank, BSNL is losing heavily and is surviving on government funding. In 2010-11, BSNL suffered a net loss of Rs 5,997 crore, nearly three times of net loss of Rs 1,823 crore made in 2009-10. The loss, insiders fear, is likely to mount to Rs 10,000 crore in the current financial year ending in March 2012.

Talking to Deccan Herald from Hyderabad, Janardhan Rao, General Manager Hyderabad Circle, said “BSNL is now a case to enter the ICU (intensive care unit in a hospital). Instead of that, the government is taking away the life support.” Rao, one of the petitioners in Hyderabad High Court against the DoT order, says the government should have thought through the transformation plan before transferring the DoT employees.

In response to Deccan Herald query on how BSNL will cope up with the sudden exodus, its Chairman and Managing Director R K Upadhyay did not want to comment. However, a senior DoT Official in Delhi said the transfer was a part of the overall restructuring plan for BSNL. “We will hire management level people according to the requirement that arises,” he said.  When Deccan Herald recently spoke to the Minister of State for Telecom Sachin Pilot, he too suggested that the transfer is a part of the BSNL restructuring plan. But he declined to give the details of the contingency plan, if any.

The representatives of officers union, however, feel that promoted officers will be able to replace the senior management team in operations. H Y Andheli, Head of the Karnataka Circle of All India BSNL Executives’ Association, one of the two BSNL officers’ associations, said, “The government could have made the transition much smoother and efficient, by giving a longer deadline for the transfer of deputation employees.” In the meanwhile, existing middle level officers could have been promoted to take higher responsibility and new management trainees should also have been recruited, he said. The other union, Sanchar Nigam Executives’ Association (SNEA) on its web site has given a contingency plan where it said that for the maintenance of telecom services, absorbed Group A officers should be promoted to senior positions immediately.


(Published 05 November 2011, 20:26 IST)

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