Gov appoints committee to repatriate ITS officers from BSNL as deadline expires

A big bone of contention between several BSNL employees unions and the government — the repatriation of ‘unabsorbed’ ITS officers — may be nearing a resolution with the government setting up a “committee of secretaries” after a final court deadline lapsed three weeks ago.

The dispute revolves the repatriation of more than 1,000 ITS (Indian Telecom Service) officers from BSNL and MTNL back to government offices, and installing new managers at these loss-making companies to turn them around.

The ITS officers are termed “unabsorbed” as they refused to become part of BSNL and MTNL when these were carved out of the former government department, the Department of Telecom (DoT).

Unlike their peers who chose to become employees of BSNL and MTNL, these officers continued to remain as ‘government officials’ and have, because of this, enjoyed better privileges and perks since BSNL and MTNL were formed 12 years ago.

Among the privileges enjoyed by the deputed ITS include regular pay hikes in accordance with the recommendations made by different pay commissions, regular promotions in accordance with government policies etc.. In contrast, the salary increases and promotions inside BSNL and MTNL have been less rosy as both have been making record losses year after year.

Various employees unions, including those of the companies’ managerial staff, have laid the blame for the losses squarely at the door of the deputed ITS officers, who dominate the top managerial posts inside the company. They have said that the ITS officers have no incentive to reduce the losses and turn around the company as their own pay-packets are not dependent on the two companies’ performances.

“Most of the unabsorbed officers are not taking any active interest in development, operations and maintenance of network of BSNL/MTNL… Outcome of allowing borrowed management, without any commitment, affinity and sense of belonging to the company, for the last five years, is disastrous for the companies,” Sanchar Nigam Executives’ Association of India (SNEAI) said in a letter to the Prime Minister two months ago, seeking an expedited repatriation of the officers to the government.

BSNL’s losses increased by about 30% last year to about Rs 8,850 crore and are fast becoming extremely unsustainable.

Hearing the dispute, the Delhi High Court recently set a deadline of 15 December 2012 for the movement of officers back to the government, overruling pleas by the companies’ leadership to let them remain to ensure ‘smooth operations’.

Replying to a question by BJP MP Mansukhbhai Vasava, minister of state for communications and IT Milind Deora has said that “till 29.11.2012, 393 (354 by BSNL and 39 by MTNL) unabsorbed ITS officers have been repatriated to Department of Telecommunications.”

Asked what action has been taken for the officers’ repatriation, Deora said the government has set up a committee of (department) secretaries. A committee of secretaries is set up for matters that require inter-departmental co-ordination.

“Two meetings of COS have already been held,” he said, early in December.