The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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National strike, Calcutta stricken

New Delhi, Oct. 28: If your telephone isn’t working or if you are unable to make long-distance calls, blame it on an annual ritual of gripes and antics over pay.

More than one lakh employees of the government-run BSNL have started a work-to-rule agitation, throwing the country’s telecom network out of gear.

Union sources said the work-to-rule agitation — it is being scrupulously adhered to in Calcutta, though the zeal is a lot less intense in other parts of the country — means that it may take up to 24 hours longer than it normally does to rectify faults.

The general manager of Calcutta Telephones, R.K. Mishra, admitted that none of the utility’s 13 lakh subscribers could connect to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other areas since last night.

The work-to-rule agitation by BSNL employees has hit both the fixed line and mobile services (offered by BSNL). The company offers cellular mobile service under the brand name CellOne.

Girdhari Lal Jogi, an association leader, said: “The long-distance lines and trunk routes in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat have been badly affected. This will get worse if the management does not accept our demands.”

The most important demand made by the striking employees is the introduction of payscales based on Industrial Dearness Allowance for executives in BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.

More bad news: this Diwali, you may not be able to wish your friends and relatives over the phone if the government and the striking employees fail to come to an agreement by November 1. The problem is likely to exacerbate if the seven-point demand made by the striking employees is not settled by the BSNL management.

Government officials declined to put a fault rate of telephone lines after the strike that began last week. But sources in BSNL said: “More than 1.5 lakh lines are down (all over India). This does not include mobile services and cellular services.”

However, BSNL officials tried to play down the impact of the strike on telephone services. “All the faults are being attended to. They may be delayed by a few hours but will be soon attended to. We do not have any numbers for the faults from the country because of the strike; whatever we have is a normal fault and that is being attended to,” said a senior deputy director in the office of Staff Relations at BSNL.

W. Seshagiri Rao, general secretary, Telecom Engineers Officers Association, said: “We had held a meeting with the chairman and managing director of BSNL today and later with the director (finance) but there has been no breakthrough yet. We will be holding another round of negotiations on Tuesday with the deputy director-general, personnel, who also heads the committee on payscales and perks.”

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