MTNL subscribers in Delhi have reported internet outages going unattended for several weeks as the government-owned telecom giant undergoes the transition from a loss-making venture into a profitable one, several MTNL officials with knowledge of the matter have told India TV News.
Officials at MTNL’s Nehru Place exchange said that customer complaints of late have gone unattended as the company reallocates its human resources amid the ongoing exercise of voluntary retirement scheme. “As far as our Wi-Fi customer base go, the operations have been severely affected across Delhi. There is a severe manpower crunch and we are unable to attend to customers’ complaints,” said a 54-year old official at MNTL’s Nehru Place exchange who doesn’t wish to be identified.
Dozens of complaints of internet services being affected were reported from neighbourhood such as Greater Kailash Part 1, officials say. “It is only now that we are taking care of many of these complaints,” they say.
Over 14,000 of MTNL’s 18,500 employees last month opted for voluntary retirement, multiple MTNL officials noted in their conversations with India TV News, leaving the company with just over 4,500 full-time workers. The last day of working of employees who have opted for VRS is Jan 31, 2020, officials say. The government last year approved just over Rs 2,100 crore
Blaming the “hastily rolled-out VRS” for MTNL’s poor service record, AK Kaushik, convener of United Forum of MTNL Union and Association (Delhi-Mumbai), tells India TV News that services will go for a toss as the government didn’t think the VRS properly through. “The revenues have declined as ever more subscribers opted out of MTNL landline due to poor service,” explains Kaushik.
MTNL faces a debt of Rs 20,000 crore, posting a loss of approximately Rs 3,400 crore in 2019, with its revenue pegged at Rs 2,000 crore.
“They didn’t award MTNL-BSNL 4G like they did to other players. How were then MTNL and BSNL supposed to compete in the market,” says Kaushik, as he squarely pins the blame of increasing losses on poor management of the telecom PSU by the government.
According to calculations and based on interactions with officials, the medium to long-term burden of VRS on MTNL and the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) would add up to around Rs one lakh crore. To raise money to carry out the unprecedented voluntary retirement plan, both MTNL and BSNL have been asked to monetise their land parcels across the country, the worth of which runs into thousands of crores.
MTNL’s management is reported to have identified properties for immediate further leasing, whose value is to the tune of Rs 23,000 crore. These properties could generate anywhere between Rs 600 crore and 700 crores in rent annually.
However, it has been pointed out to India TV News by senior officials that the real worth of MTNL properties, located at prime locations in Delhi and Mumbai, would easily be more than what has been estimated.
MTNL’s Delhi and Mumbai circles worst affected
According to the latest data published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), 43,919 gave up their telephone connections at the end of October last year, which left the total number of wireline subscribers in India at 2.1 crores. Among the major players active in the wireline market, MTNL, operational in Delhi and Mumbai, commanded a market share of 14.71 per cent.
“It is only natural that MTNL landline subscribers in Delhi and Mumbai will be worst affected due to lack of staff, since the company is present in only these two markets,” says Kaushik.
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