The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unions show business sense

Calcutta, Oct. 6: It’s all about sweet… nothings. For, that’s what Calcutta Telephones ultimately managed to hand over to its employees during the week-long celebrations to mark Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s second “birthday”. And, strangely, all this because of the would-be recipients’ reluctance to accept “expensive gifts” that would go against the company’s interests.

The Calcutta Telephones authorities, with the objective of doing something suitably grand to mark the second anniversary of the corporate entity, had planned to buy more than 15,000 boxes of sweets for its employees. But, when the plans were being drawn up, they had probably not let themselves in for what followed when the plans were unveiled before the would-be recipients.

According to the original plans, each box would have cost anything between Rs 150 and 200. For the 15,000-odd employees, the BSNL gift would have cost the exchequer between Rs 25 lakh and 30 lakh.

But even as the authorities were racking their brains on the goodies to be packed inside the 15,000-odd boxes, the would-be beneficiaries protested.

What is the point in spending so much money on “sweet nothings” when the need of the hour is to cut costs, they said. Besides, with Reliance Infotech Ltd breathing down its neck — and little help from the government that owns BSNL — gearing up for the battle ahead is more important now, they said.

The unions also pointed to the other BSNL wings in eastern India. None of them, including the West Bengal Telecom, the Eastern Telecom Project, the Eastern Telecom Region, the Telecom Stores or the Telecom Factory, are lining up such extravaganzas, they argued.

Senior Calcutta Telephones officials readily saw logic in the arguments. The top brass was “actually very happy” that the employees themselves came up with the “cost-cutting logic”, officials told The Telegraph. The plans were shelved, probably “more readily” than they were floated, as the employees’ reluctance to accept the goodies actually saved the BSNL’s Calcutta wing a lot of money.

Senior BSNL officials admitted that the stand taken publicly — that Reliance is not a competitor right now — was more of public posturing. “Reliance is deliberately targeting Calcutta Telephones’ high-end subscribers (like the public call offices and corporate houses) and we decided that the ‘birthday’ week could be better utilised if we sold ourselves aggressively like our private competitors,” a senior official said.

The idea of roadshows —where application forms for new connections are being distributed — complete with the “come-and-see-what-we-have-for-you” slogans from public address systems originated soon after.

“Subscribers have been telling us that it was a pleasant surprise to be wooed by a government agency,” a BSNL official said. “But we have not been telling them that all the wooing might have been a little less loud had we spent Rs 30 lakh on buying sweets for our own employees,” he added.

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