BSNL Employees Protest as Government Takes Over 81-acre Training Centre Land

Tensions rise within Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) as the Modi government announces its intention to acquire the telecom company’s substantial 81-acre training center in Ghaziabad. The government plans to repurpose the site for the establishment of a policy research and training institute, as outlined in a “Presidential order” dated November 10, 2023, by the Ministry of Communications.

The order specifies the transfer of the Alttc (Advanced Level Telecom Training Centre) campus, encompassing 81 acres of land and infrastructure, to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) / National Telecommunications Institute for Policy Research, Innovation & Training (Ntiprit). BSNL is instructed to take the necessary steps to hand over the Alttc campus to Ntiprit and submit a compliance report to DoT by December 17, 2023.

The move has triggered strong opposition from BSNL’s training center and groups representing the 70,000-strong workforce, particularly executives within the telecom company. In response to the decision, the head of Alttc issued a letter dated November 13, 2023, stating that the move was a “unilateral decision” by the telecom department (DoT) and deemed it unacceptable, citing potential adverse effects on BSNL’s skill development efforts.

This is not the first time such an order has been issued. A similar order was issued in February 2022, which later experienced a status quo but has now been withdrawn. BSNL officials express concern that the Presidential order could disrupt the 4G/5G skill development activities crucial for BSNL’s service expansion.

BSNL, a late entrant in the 4G services arena, faces tough competition from private rivals like Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, both of which launched 5G services last year. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)-led consortium is currently supplying BSNL with homegrown 4G network gear.

The Alttc official emphasized that the recent move was not part of any approved financial assistance to BSNL. BSNL, in the wake of a recent relief package approved by the Union Cabinet, is set to receive Rs 89,047 crore, including the allotment of 4G and 5G spectrum.

BSNL’s Ghaziabad training center, a hub for specialized labs in areas such as Cybersecurity, Internet of Things (IoT), fixed and wireless broadband, and transmission technologies, plays a crucial role in training employees. The center has trained nearly 50,000 employees in the last three years and serves the training needs of various entities, including Asia Pacific Telecommunity, Nepal Telecom, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In response to these developments, the All Unions and Associations of BSNL (AUAB) issued a statement vehemently opposing the government’s actions, describing them as arbitrary and high-handed. The BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) urged unions and associations to prevent the DoT from taking over this asset from BSNL.

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