The government informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that efforts are on to revive telecommunications firms Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, which have been making losses, PTI reported. The Centre added that its voluntary retirement scheme for employees of the two organisations is receiving a good response.

Union Minister of Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad said, in response to a question, that 79,000 employees of BSNL and 14,000 out of 20,000 employees of MTNL have applied for the voluntary retirement scheme. “BSNL and MTNL are the strategic assets for the country and in case of earthquake, cyclone or defence purposes they come forward proactively to help citizens,” Prasad said. “We want to revive them and make them professional.”

The minister said that on October 23, the Union Cabinet approved the plan for revival of BSNL, including the voluntary retirement scheme. “Accordingly, BSNL has launched ‘BSNL Voluntary Retirement Scheme-2019’ on November 4, 2019 which is open till December 3, 2019,” he said in a written reply. However, Prasad added that the dues of contractual employees will be paid off by the contractor, not the telecom firms.

Prasad said that for BSNL, the cost of its employees was 75.06% of the total cost, and for MTNL, it was 87.15%. As against this, for Airtel the cost was just 2.95%, 4.27% for Jio and 5.59% for Vodafone-Idea. The minister said 4G services have also been provided to BSNL to make it more competitive.

On October 23, the Centre had said that it plans to merge BSNL and MTNL, and offer an “attractive VRS package” for employees of the two firms. Earlier in October, MTNL employees alleged they had not been paid salaries for the past two months.

MTNL employees had planned a strike during lunch hours on October 10 and October 16 in Mumbai and Delhi to protest against the non-payment of salaries. Apart from their salaries, they demanded the merger of MTNL and BSNL, and permission to MTNL to use 4G and 5G connections. They also urged the government not to reduce the retirement age from 60 years to 50 years.

On October 2, the Telecom Executives Association of MTNL had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, telling him that MTNL employees were in serious financial difficulties ahead of the festive season.