BSNL plans strike over new GSM tender

The controversy over BSNL’s tender just refuses to die down. Just when it appeared that the issue was settled with telecom minister A Raja clearing the PSU’s tender for just under 23 million GSM lines last week, and BSNL placing orders for 14 million 2G lines with Ericsson and Nokia, a fresh controversy is now threatening to derail the entire process.

In a move that is likely to be an huge embarrassment for telecom minister Mr Raja, BSNL employees unions and its officers’ associations now plan to go on an indefinite strike to protest the PSU’s board’s decision to halve the tender size from 45.5 million lines initially, in line with the wishes of Mr Raja. The unions want the PSU to award the contract for 45.5 million as was envisaged in the initial tender.

BSNL executives said that move to go in for an indefinite strike would be finalised only after the meeting of all unions and officers associations in Delhi on Wednesday. They also added that the unions had decided to harden their stance as their meeting with Mr Raja on Tuesday failed to produce any conclusive results.

“The minister did not give us a satisfactory explanation for reducing the tender size. In fact, the tender size was halved despite additional solicitor general of India Gopal Subramanium advising the company against doing so,” an Union leader told.

The BSNL unions have also sought an explanation from both the PSU’s management and also Mr Raja on the logic of linking the 3G component of the tender to the 3G policy. This is because, BSNL while placing advanced purchase orders for 17.5 million lines (of which 14 million lines will be 2G), had said that the final orders for the remaining 3.5 million will only be placed after the 3G policy is announced and the spectrum for it is made available.

“When the networks of private players are being made ready for 3G, BSNL’s move is illogical—we want the government to come clean on this issue,” said another union leader.

It was only strong words from the additional solicitor general that forced BSNL to retain the 3G component in its
halved tender despite Mr Raja asking the company to do away with it.