BSNL may become a dividend-paying operator if voluntary retirement scheme gets Centre’s nod

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NEW DELHI: State-run telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) could become a dividend-paying operator even in the current stressful times, if its headcount is streamlined like private sector players, once the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) gets the Centre’s nod.

“Salary expenses which constitute nearly 65% of the revenue, are dragging us down. If we had employees in a ratio similar to private players, we would be a divident-paying company as of today,” BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava told ET.

Meanwhile, a letter of comfort for Presidential sanction of Rs 3500 crore has been issued to the ailing telco by the department of teleocm (DoT) to facilitate bank credit which would help it to avail working capital

The financially-stressed operator has, for the first time, delayed salaries — for February — to its over 1.70 lakh workforce, except those in Kerala and J&K circles. BSNL said it would be able to pay to its staff on Friday taking out Rs 850 crore from a total of Rs 2,700 crore internal accrual as of March.

“The VRS and asset monetisation are the two key strategies to turn the corner,” the top executive said, adding that it has already started working on a few initiatives aimed at controlling expenses, and has frozen on various services availed by employees, including Leave Travel Concession (LTC) and medical facilities.

In 2000, a large number of government workforce were shifted to the then newly-formed corporate entity BSNL with employees entitled to government pension scheme and other benefits that has only added to its woes over time.

Even as the telco awaits assistance from the Centre, its tactical approach, including affordable tariff and customer service initiatives has led it to increase its subscriber base on month-on-month basis, despite heightened market rivalry. But it has also led to its revenue taking a beating and losses rising.

BSNL though has the industry-lowest debt of Rs 13,000 crore as of the 2018 when compared to market leader Vodafone Idea with 1.2 lakh crore and Sunil Mittal-driven Bharti Airtel’s Rs 1.06 lakh crore.

The fourth-largest telco is also looking at monetisation of towers by way of infrastructure sharing and renting out training centres, while land assets, according to the top executive could alone fetch over Rs 70,000 crore.

BSNL’s revival plans also include airwaves to rollout of 4G services to take on Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.

The telco is also planning to start 4G pilot initiatives across all licensed service areas (LSAs) on the existing 3G spectrum in the 2100 Mhz band. Such readiness may also help the telco to commercially launch the much-awaited high-speed data services within a day after a formal nod from the government.

“We have given targets to all circles to identify spots for starting 4G pilots on the 3G spectrum, and we will not require any new equipment for this ambitious rollout,” the official said.

The state-run operator is also keenly waiting clearances from the telecom department to kick-start government-aided initiatives for universal mobile connectivity as envisaged in the national policy roadmap — in Northeast and left wing extremism affected areas — that could also add to its revenue.





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