“This is an unfortunate situation. More than 1 lakh employees of domestic companies may be out of their job in the next few weeks if the government continues to ignore the financially-stressed industry,” Sandeep Aggarwal, chairman— Telecom Committee at PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry and co-chairman of the Telecom Exports Promotion Council (Tepc) told ETT.
Aggarwal further said that Rs 20,000 crore worth of unpaid dues was impacting the entire ecosystem down the value chain in the country’s distributed economy.
In the wake of continued non-payment, despite seeking intervention from the highest echelons of the Narendra Modi government, homegrown firms are now finding it hard to further sustain non-core workforce across functions, and according to industry insiders, are contemplating a job cut move, making one in every two employees vulnerable.
The development comes in the wake of companies’ inability to disburse wages and mounting pressure from creditors. The domestic telecom industry including gear makers and suppliers employs over 2 lakh individuals.
Both— on-roll and off-roll workforce, according to the person privy to the matter, are now also planning to stage protest and sit-in outside the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) premises after their wages being continually dragged for months.
Query to DoT did not elicit any response.
Companies such as Sterlite Technologies Limited (STL), Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL), Tejas Networks, Paramount Wires & Cables Limited (PWCL), Aksh OptiFibre, Transline Technologies, Clixxo Broadband and Birla Cable Limited (BCL) have been seeking recovery of their dues since December last year.
Earlier in a letter to the government-controlled operator, Aksh Optifibre said the “company’s operations have been severely impacted” due to non-receipt of payment with the Delhi-based firm seeking “immediate steps” to avoid closure.
In May this year, former telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh-headed Tepc has sought telecom department’s intervention to clear outstanding funds to save financially-sick firms, with some of them on a course to liquidation.
“The telecom department has diverted funds payable to industry to meet out BSNL staff wages but no concern is displayed for several thousands of those employed in the private sector,” Aggarwal said, and added that the inter-departmental blame game and infighting between various agencies such as the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) and BSNL have led to such a dire situation.
The USOF is a Rs 50,000-crore strong kitty to fund India’s rural connectivity programs while BBNL, a special purpose vehicle (SPV), is rolling out the mega BharatNet initiative, a backbone of Digital India umbrella program. Both are principally being deployed by BSNL together with local partner companies.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s prestigious Make in India initiative, the bureaucratic mismanagement, according to Aggarwal, has led to an ill-fated state of affairs, in which even dues pertaining to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) are not being cleared within 45 days as per the government’s own mandate.
More than 1,100 complaints have been filed by firms on the Centre’s public grievance system against BSNL to recover dues, a highest against any public sector companies in the country.
Last month, the Cabinet has cleared a revival package worth Rs 70,000 crore to bring back ailing BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) back to health that includes offering Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), allocation of fourth-generation or 4G spectrum and assets monetisation.