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BSNL wants govt to pay pension dues

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, the state-owned telephony major, has asked the finance ministry to pay pension to its employees which will amount to a one-time payment of Rs 1,000 crore and a recurring expense of Rs 50-80 crore annually.

The one-time payment is meant to cover past dues that the government promised to pay the state-owned entity's employees when the the department of telecom services (DTS) was corporatised and metamorphosed into BSNL.

In a letter written to Vinod Vaish, secretary in the communications ministry, BSNL has asked the ministry to approach the finance ministry to sort out the issue. “The corporation (BSNL) has been asked to pay the entire amount of pension liability not only to those employees absorbed into BSNL but also for existing pensioners for the financial year 2002-03, which will make the company poorer by Rs 800 crore. It will further get added up if the burden is passed on for the financial year 2003-04,” says the note.

The note says that it has become imperative for DoT to pursue the issue since BSNL —which inherited the legacy systems of the department of telecom services — cannot bear the brunt of corporatisation and “the liability of the government to pay the amount of pension is fully discharged.”

When DTS was corporatised, the newly-created entity was promised that the government would pay pensionary benefits including family pension of the former government employees absorbed into the new corporatisation.

“The government had also assured that necessary amendments would be made to pension rules. However, no actions has been taken yet in this regard. Our demands were also supported by the parliamentary standing committee on communications and information technology,” said a senior BSNL official.

Officials said with the already growing financial burden on the company, the annual pension would be an added burden that the company cannot undertake. The corporation has its own problems because of the intense competition in the market and the government should not burden the organisation with the pension arrears that date back to the period before DTS was corporatised, they added.

There are more than 4 lakh employees of BSNL out of which 2,41,424 employees are in Group C, 69,365 employees in group D, 44,177 officers in Group B and 7,666 officers in Group A. In addition, there are about 4,341 employees under the category of industrial workers.

It is important for the government to resolve the matter soon since it has the potential to snowball into a major controversy as was witnessed during Ram Vilas Paswan’s tenure as communications minister. At that time, the employees had resorted to a strike that paralaysed the telecom network for more than a fortnight.

To wriggle out of the issue Paswan had promised that the government would be asked to pay pension to the 4 lakh employees of the proposed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

The official stand of the government was that it would soon devise a suitable mechanism to get pensionary contributions from BSNL paid to the government for the period of service rendered (by employee) in the company after absorption. However, it did not specify how the pensions would be released and carefully avoided any reference to the Consolidated Fund of India.

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