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Slur blitz over CellOne flop

Thursday saw an employees’ deputation with a difference. Eight Calcutta Telephones unions, cutting across political and hierarchical lines, called a media conference on Thursday, to allege that a section of their management was sabotaging their mobile-phone service.

The BSNL mobile service (CellOne) was deliberately “being made to suffer” to make it easier for private operators, particularly Reliance, they said.

Both CalTel and Reliance, however, denied the allegation. Spokespersons for the BSNL subsidiary said CalTel followed guidelines from the Delhi headquarters and, therefore, there was no question of the management in Calcutta doing anything to harm its own interests.

“We have slowed down the process of increasing our CellOne subscriber base as the infrastructure is not ready to handle the additional load,” a senior CalTel official said. “If we give out more connections, the subscribers we already have will suffer,” he explained.

Reliance, too, denied that it was in cahoots with any BSNL official to improve its own mobile-phone prospects. “We do not follow any unethical business practice,” a spokesperson said.

But, whatever the explanations, the charges — unprecedented in CalTel history — flew thick and fast. Why did CalTel refuse to charge Reliance for the damage the latter had caused to its cables when the other BSNL wing, the West Bengal Telecom (WBT) Circle, had already claimed compensation for similar damage' Why does Calcutta Telephones have only 22,000-odd subscribers (for its CellOne service) when WBT Circle has more than 1.3 lakh'

The eight associations, ranging in affiliation from the Citu to the BJP’s labour wing, and including the Congress, announced the launch of an agitation, starting from lunch-hour demonstrations and ending in a full-day demonstration in front of chief general manager S.P. Chakraborty’s office, and demanded “a probe to get to the bottom of things”.

The CalTel management, however, blamed “circumstances and decisions imposed by the headquarters” for their mobile debacle. “We were forced to experiment with the indigenous C-Dot technology when the WBT Circle was allowed to launch its product with the much better Ericsson technology,” a senior official said. “Besides, the WBT Circle does not have to contend with competition in every zone,” he added.

But the charge about the absence of compensation had the CalTel brass (three of its seniormost officials) fumbling. “We have all the data with us and are working on the rates for compensation,” one of them said. “There’s absolutely no question of sabotaging BSNL prospects,” said another. “We share BSNL employees’ concern for the betterment of CalTel and will sit with them within a week to discuss all the issues,” chief general manager Chakraborty said.

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