Mumbai: Over 82 per cent MTNL staff opted for voluntary retirement scheme, customers in city helpless

Updated: Feb 06, 2020, 08:27 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Shrunk workforce of government telecom major is struggling to handle 125 exchanges across Mumbai and several call centres.

The MTNL building at Prabhadevi. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The MTNL building at Prabhadevi. Pic/Bipin Kokate

As many as 82 per cent employees of the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) recently opted for the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) with January 31 being the last working day of the VRS employees. A total of 18,000 MTNL staffers across Mumbai and Delhi - mostly grade C (clerical) and D (peons) employees and linemen – have opted for the scheme after it was announced late last year. This has left over 14 lakh landline phones, 10 lakh mobile users and approximately five lakh broadband users in Mumbai in a lurch.

The city has already started experiencing the ill-effects of the mass retirement with most MTNL broadband networks, landlines and mobile phone glitches remaining unresolved for the past few months.

The remaining staff at MTNL have not been paid their salaries for two months. Pic/MTNL Kamgar Sangh
The remaining staff at MTNL have not been paid their salaries for two months. Pic/MTNL Kamgar Sangh

Amongst those affected was the Sub Registrar of Assurances office in Chembur where people coming for registration of documents have been having a harrowing experience due to internet network issues. "We have been facing broadband technical glitches for the past couple of days due to which the portal is not accessible at certain hours, adversely impacting the number of documents being registered on the portal. Our servers are not getting connected since Monday," an employee said.

"On average, more than 50 documents get registered at the Chembur office in two shifts. The number has, however, come down drastically to 10-20 due to the server issue now. I had to cancel/ postpone my clients 'registration," said Mehul Shethia, a Ghatkopar-based real estate broker.

The remaining staff at MTNL have not been paid their salaries for two months

Call centres shut
MTNL Mumbai has around 125 exchanges across Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Mira Bhayander, Panvel and Uran. The call centres in almost all these exchanges, apart from Prabadhevi Head Office, have been non-functional since January 31.

Also, most of the exchanges have roped in a couple of people from other internal departments to man the Quick Customer Service counters at telephone exchanges.

"We have been asked to multitask. It is unfair, especially when you have not been paid two months' salary. We have our home loans, children's education and other household expenses which have all gone for a toss," said an MTNL staffer on the condition of anonymity.

"While people from grade A to D have opted for VRS, the maximum retirement has happened in the C and D grades – the foot soldiers. The management has not applied their mind to chalk out a plan in advance," said Dilip Jadhav, secretary, MTNL Kamgar Sangh, a Shiv Sena-backed union headed by Arvind Sawant.

"The MTNL staff mobile caller tune plays the song 'Dekho desh badal raha hai' but unfortunately our situation is only becoming worse with every passing day. To pay off such a large number of employees who opted for the VRS, the government will have to pump in around R2,000 to R2,500 crore. The payment of ex-gratia dues is supposed to be cleared in two installments - March 2020 and June 2020. The retired employees are also eligible for pension," Jadhav added.

'Govt dug grave for MTNL'
Kamagar Sangh president Sawant said that a major chunk of MTNL revenue goes towards paying employees' salaries and other fixed outgoings. "Therefore, the yearly financial results of the company including balance sheet has been in the red for close to ten years now. We blame the management and the present BJP and past Congress government for this situation of MTNL which enjoyed a monopoly in the landline segment in Delhi and Mumbai. The government favouring certain private players has led to this situation," Sawant claimed.

The union representatives had a series of meeting with the MTNL management where they were told that the government was keen on outsourcing the entire functioning of MTNL but neither the Ministry of Telecommunications nor MTNL management "have invited any tenders yet."

Sawant said that MTNL was making profits of R218 crore in 2008 and is struggling to survive now.

In 2008, he said, the government announced fresh licensing of 3G and a private player bid the highest. "MTNL and BSNL were told not to participate in the bid and were assured 3G licenses provided they paid the amount at par with the private player. MTNL had to take a loan of R10,000 crore from the market at an interest of 10 per cent for this. It was paying R1,000 crore a year towards interest. To make it worse, the private player was given a 3G license across the country by deliberately keeping MTNL/BSNL and no government ever provided any financial assistance," Sawant explained, adding that the government could have easily reduced the bid price for MTNL which only catered to two cities.

Also, he said, Garuda mobile launched by MTNL was yielding good response but "the then government did not give a license to Garuda CDMA (code-division multiple access) across areas in Mumbai." For a Garuda customer venturing out of Mumbai limits, his network would drop and hence ultimately customers gave up on Garuda phones, he said.

What next?
Sawant said he has requested the retired employees to continue coming to work to avoid public discomfort and inconvenience. "We have proposed to the management and Telecom Ministry that even if they outsource MTNL to a private party, the retired MTNL employees should be hired on a contract basis so that the new team can be trained under the experienced people. This is crucial for keeping MTNL services intact for its loyal consumers," he said.

Sawant added that complaints had been received from Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) about some optic fibre network issue when some retired employees reported to work and resolved the issue. "The union will stand by all the MTNL employees and will support them till their dues are cleared by the government as assured," said Sawant.

'No comments'
Attempts made to contact Sunil Kumar, chairman and managing director, MTNL, Delhi did not yield any results. This correspondent was asked by his office to contact the human resources department.

MTNL Delhi senior manager (HR) Shama Kaushik said, "I am not authorised to speak on the issue and therefore won't be able to make any comments."

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