BSNL, MTNL's Rs3.23 Lakh Crore Revival Packages and PIO’s Funny Excuse To Deny Information under RTI Act
Moneylife Digital Team 15 March 2024
During the run-up to the 2014 general election, current prime minister Narendra Modi repeatedly emphasised that the government has no business to be in business. While the Union government takes full credit for the divestment of Air India, it continues to dole out revival packages to other loss-making public sector enterprises (PSEs). For example, over the past five years, the Union government gave three packages of over Rs3.23 lakh crore to revive Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL). Yet, the public information officer (PIO) in the department of telecom (DoT) says information on revival package proposals cannot be given because it may affect the share price of MTNL!
Aakash Goel, an engineer, management graduate and chartered financial analyst, had filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking copies of the proposals for revival packages and copies of note sheets, office memorandum (OM) sent by the ministry of communication showing the calculation of the relief and grant of revival packages for BSNL and MTNL.
The PIO told him that "The revival package was given to BSNL and MTNL with the approval of the Union Cabinet in 2019, 2022 and 2023 and consequently, this office issued OMs dated 29 October 2019, 2 August 2022 and 9 June 2023. However, the revival package has not yet been released wholly and is still in the implementation phase. Further, MTNL is a listed company and the revival package is still in the implementation phase; revealing of such documents can affect the MTNL shares."
Further, such Cabinet decision is exempted, as per clause (d) and (i) of sub-section (1) of Section 8 of the RTI Act, the PIO says. "The concerned project/ MTNL division has informed that the information/ material sought by the applicant cannot be furnished. As such, it is informed that information/ material sought cannot be furnished as the same is exempted under clause (d) of sub-section (1) of section 8 of the RTI Act."
Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha on 2 August 2023, Devusinh Chauhan, minister of state for communications, says, "The Union Cabinet on 23 October 2019 approved the revival package of Rs70,000 crore (approx) for 'revival of BSNL and MTNL' by reducing employee costs through voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), debt restructuring by raising of sovereign guarantee bonds, and monetisation of assets. With this, both BSNL and MTNL have become operationally profitable since 2020-21 and remained so since then."
The Union Cabinet, on 27 July 2022, approved a revival package for BSNL amounting to Rs1.64 lakh crore, the minister says, adding the revival measures focus on infusing fresh capital for upgrading BSNL services, allocating spectrum, de-stressing its balance sheet and augmenting its fibre network by merging Bharat Broadband Nigam Ltd (BBNL) with BSNL. 
"Further, the Union Cabinet on 7 June 2023 approved the allotment of 4G/5G spectrum to BSNL with the total outlay of Rs89,047 crore through equity infusion," the Lok Sabha was informed. 
Information shared by Mr Chauhan, the minister, shows that since the financial year (FY)19-20 to FY23-24, the government has allotted Rs1.30 lakh crore for the revival plan of BSNL. The telecom PSE utilised Rs92,851.69 crore for capital infusion, viability gap funding, ex-gratia and employee pension.
Last year in September, both the loss-making PSEs signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for synergy of operations between them. "The MoU with BSNL will pave the way for synergy of operations between MTNL and BSNL in order to provide pan India telecom services as a public sector enterprise under the government of India," MTNL says in a regulatory filing.
According to a report from Economic Times, last month the Union government has pulled up the management of BSNL and MTNL for the slow pace of their land monetisation process, especially in metro cities. "They have released only Rs550 crore from land monetisation in the past few years, compared with the estimated potential of over Rs20,000 crore."
Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba called a review meeting with the senior officials of BSNL and MTNL in February to take an update on the monetisation process. "They have been asked to prepare a detailed circle-wise report, with the land parcel and reason for the delay or possible hurdles, by 31 May 2024," an official told the newspaper.
3 months ago
Another well trumpeted revival was that of Air India. Not even God knows what is happening.
Kamal Garg
3 months ago
So the revival package is nothing but payment of salary and pension to large number of past and present employees. Should it be called revival of business.
3 months ago
Both MTNL & BSNL should be wound up as their entire SERVICE has gone to dogs! With huge Salaries to employees & pathetic Setvice their CLOSURE & LOSS OF FAITH with Consumers don't waste any more TAX PAYERS money on their revival!
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