Sinha talks on steps being taken to tackle call drops and reviving of MTNL
Pankaj Kumar | September 9, 2016 | New Delhi
Minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha, who doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, has also taken charge of the telecom ministry, which is conducting the largest-ever spectrum auction in the country. Sinha spoke candidly with Pankaj Kumar on the steps being taken to tackle call drops, an issue that has riled people for long, as well as reviving state-owned telecom service provider MTNL.
What is the status of the spectrum auction?
By September-end, the spectrum auction will be over. In comparison to the previous government, the work is being done more efficiently by our government. Keeping in mind the telecom service providers’ complaints about the lack of spectrum, we will provide [it to] them at the earliest possible.
People have been complaining about call drops for long. What steps have you taken to handle this issue?
This will be solved only with constant monitoring. After taking charge of this [telecom] ministry, I called a meeting of all telecom service providers and told them that I won’t be satisfied with statistics or data, consumer satisfaction is must. They have submitted a working plan under the guidance of the ministry. I have formed a committee of senior officers to monitor the situation.
The service providers have promised to make an investment of Rs 20,000 crore. They have also promised to install more than 1 lakh base transceiver stations (BTS). As of now, 48,000 BTS have already been installed. In the last one month, an improvement of 16 percent has been made. In the next four months, there will be substantial improvement.
MTNL seems to be dead and people trust private players more than BSNL. Are you going to revive MTNL and BSNL?
This is a competitive sector. Those who will provide better services will survive. This is an issue of introspection. If there has been a decline in the number of consumers, there must have been some problem. One of the reasons behind this is that 50 percent of BSNL’s revenue goes in the payment of salaries and pensions. It is 70 percent for MTNL, while it is just 5 percent at other places. Because they are government companies, some decisions forced them to buy spectrum which they didn’t require. MTNL further burdened itself by taking a huge loan. The interest payments are proving costly. While BSNL was in profit till 2008-09, it didn’t see much investment after that. But since our government took charge, our prime minister and the [previous] minister in charge took a serious view of the situation. Heavy investments have been made, the effects of which are visible now. The services of BSNL have improved a lot in the last two years. We have worked out a plan for the revival of MTNL and it will be implemented soon. We have also drafted a plan to recruit young fresh talent who are well-versed in new technologies. The existence of MTNL and BSNL in this sector is important for healthy competition.
Net neutrality is another important issue in this sector that has been hotly debated. What is your stand?
Our government is in favour of net neutrality. As of now, this issue is [before] the [parliamentary] standing committee.
After a CAG report, the Congress has alleged a scam of Rs 45,000 crore. They have said the government is trying to protect the interests of six leading telcos which owe money to the public exchequer. Please comment.
The allegations that have been made are based on a CAG report. The timeline for the same is 2006-07 to 2009-10 during which the Congress-led UPA was at the centre. It has been alleged that the revenue collected was less. Our government has nothing to hide. Since we formed the government at the centre, nothing like this [corruption] has happened. The previous government’s scams are surfacing now. However, I won’t count this as corruption. I can promise that the government will recover each penny. We have issued notices in a few cases and in other cases, we will issue [notices] soon. After the CAG report came out in February 2016, we had asked them for a few details. According to those details, there is no truth in the Rs 45,000 crore figure. The licence fee is approximately Rs 5,700 crore, and after adding penalty and interest, the total figure is between Rs 12,000 crore and Rs 12,500 crore.
You have got many railway projects sanctioned for eastern Uttar Pradesh. What else is in pipeline for UP?
A major part of Uttar Pradesh didn’t get rail services because of political reasons. There has been a wrong practice of favoring the states to which the then railway minister belongs. The Modi government has changed this. Uttar Pradesh is a big state. Over the last 20-25 years, railways has ignored this region. Many projects have been sanctioned and work has begun on the rail tracks which were not doubled or electrified. Delhi-Howrah is the busiest rail route in the country. We are going to build three flyovers near Allahabad to decongest the Allahabad-Mughalsarai section on the Delhi-Howrah route. There are many such projects which have been approved for eastern UP, western UP, central UP, and Bundelkhand.
Indian Railways is running trials of Talgo trains. When will we see it run on tracks?
The high speed rail, which is going to be built in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector, will be completed by 2023-24. The Talgo trials have been successful. The railway ministry has taken all necessary steps to make sure that the Talgo trains start running on our tracks as soon as possible.
Lack of cleanliness in trains and on platforms remains a major concern. Is there a problem in the implementation of initiatives like Swachh Bharat?
We have audited 407 stations and these reports are true. So we have asked our officers concerned to monitor these railway stations. Cleaning and maintaining cleanliness are like parallel railway tracks. While it is important to clean the stations, it is equally important that we don’t pollute them.
When will the day come when passengers won’t have to fight for berths?
Since independence, the number of passengers has grown 18 times, while the railway network has grown only 2.25 times. The new projects of doubling, tripling and electrification, which we have started, will be completed by 2020. Then people won’t face these problems.
Will the BJP announce its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the UP assembly elections?
In Maharashtra, Jharkhand or Haryana, without announcing a CM candidate, we won the elections because of our party’s strength. In Delhi, we projected a candidate but we lost the election. So in this regard the party decides according to the politics of a particular state. n
(The interview appears in the September 16-30, 2016 issue)
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