Opinion Columnists 30 Jun 2021 Dilip Cherian | Will ...
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Dilip Cherian | Will Centre have to re-hire MTNL & BSNL staffers it laid off earlier?

Published Jul 1, 2021, 12:40 am IST
Updated Jul 1, 2021, 12:40 am IST
Prakash has directed that no ex-staffer should be rehired until the matter is “examined thoroughly”
News.
 News.

No one’s willing to bell this cat! The dramatis personae are still largely the same, but a stealthy U-turn was in the works, say those in the know at Sanchar Bhavan. The question that isn’t being asked yet is whether the government acted in haste when in 2019 it chose to give VRS to thousands of employees of BSNL and MTNL. Two years later that decision has come back to haunt the babus in the department of telecommunications (DoT). The two financially troubled state-run telecom companies are currently struggling to remain operational after this rather drastic surgery which did not work.

There is growing desperation in Sanchar Bhavan and murmurs hint at a section of babus who now want to rehire as consultants the very babus who were retired with a golden handshake! It is now up to the very punctilious telecom secretary Anshu Prakash to take a view on this rather critical call. For now, some sources suggest that it’s caution that’s the leitmotif.

 

Prakash has directed that no ex-staffer should be rehired until the matter is “examined thoroughly”. But if BSNL and MTNL have to survive he may not have the luxury of too much time. Of course, there are some whispers about how this situation might actually spur the government to hive off its now not so valuable stake in these telecom behemoths of the past and be able to justify it too. That would however be yet another acrimonious debate in the making.

Remember, the government has just announced recently a further restructuring of another state-owned organisation — the Ordnance Factory Board — which is being split into seven corporate entities despite it having been strategically inviolable for long. Few are likely to question that move as this was an old pending demand of the armed forces.

 

But at Sanchar Bhavan the issues are different. After all, BSNL and MTNL are a rather different case. Which may partly explain why the telecom ministry is walking on eggshells on this subject.

Bad timing for MoEF expansion

Last year when environment minister Prakash Javadekar green-lit the setting up of 19 integrated regional offices of his ministry across the country, his stated aim was that the ministry’s expansion would lead to better coordination and monitoring of the work, without stretching his ministry’s staff. His babus had been complaining apparently that they were understaffed and overworked. A rather unusual babu logic for geographic spread.

 

Months later, the plan is being implemented at a painfully slow pace, which far from improving efficiency has actually led to key proposals piling up, many now found to be still pending. Informed sources say that the ministry has not even managed to fill the staff positions for the newly created regional offices. Given the scramble for jobs of this variety, the only explanation that former staffers can proffer is that the efforts were only half-hearted.

Some new offices in Jaipur, Shimla, Jammu, Kolkata and Gandhinagar have not made even a single appointment so far, after all the initial fanfare! With the plan barely moving, the ministry’s workload has now actually increased. The delay in appointing new staff has created more work for the old staff officers, who now have been saddled with work of the new offices that were to have been set up. Only half of the around 500 proposals submitted since last year that require the ministry’s approval for projects on forest land are still pending. While this may be a good thing, there’s danger lurking on the edges.

 

But the bigger question is, whether all this rearrangement was really necessary at a time when the nation is reeling under the Covid pandemic and the economy needs a big lift? Those proposals pending with Javadekar’s babus could have been a big help, some insist, though nature may have unwittingly got a brief reprieve.

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