BSNL employees, who were protesting the Sam Pitroda panel's recommendations, which suggested voluntary retirement to one lakh staff and 30% disinvestment as part of improving the financial health of the State-run unit, have called off their strike
Within hours of going on an indefinite strike, the employee unions of State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) on Tuesday called off the protest after the government assured them that the issue of disinvestment in the telecom company will be referred to a Group of Ministers (GoM).
"We have assured them (unions) that the issue of disinvestment will be referred to a GoM and they would be consulted before taking other decisions with regard to BSNL," telecom minister A Raja told PTI.
A high-level panel, headed by Sam Pitroda and banker Deepak Parekh and telecom secretary PJ Thomas as members, had recommended 30% disinvestment in BSNL and voluntary retirement to over one lakh staff as part of steps to improve the financial health of the State-run company.
The apex body of BSNL unions claimed that over three lakh of its members had joined the strike action this morning. The joint forum of unions has both executives and non-executives as members.
Within hours, BSNL chairman Kuldeep Goyal met the telecom minister and sought his intervention. "As the management has agreed to look into our major demands, we have decided to call off the indefinite strike," said VAN Namboodiri, convenor of the Joint Action Committee of BSNL Associations and Unions.
The Sam Pitroda panel was set up by prime minister Manmohan Singh to suggest ways to improve BSNL’s financial health.
BSNL's profits plummeted to Rs178 crore in 2009-2010 (up to December 2009) from over Rs575 crore in 2008-09 as it is rapidly losing market share to new entrants. The State-run company has 91 million users, both mobile and land line. BSNL offers services across India, except Delhi and Mumbai.
Besides the scrapping of the divestment plan, the unions are also demanding absorption of the 1,500 ITS officers, who have been continuing on deputation for the last 10 years.
The unions are also protesting sharing of BSNL infrastructure, including cables and towers, with private telecom companies.
Contrary to popular belief, SEBI’s clamp-down on ULIPs may not be of its own doing; the roots of the ongoing turf war can be traced back to the finance ministry’s thought process developed many months ago
The current full-blown turf war between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) over the regulatory purview of unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs) may have been silently stirred up under the roof of the finance ministry, much before the issue came to the limelight. While experts are sympathising with SEBI’s views on the indiscriminate mis-selling of ULIPs or IRDA’s legal jurisdiction (depending on which side their sympathies are), it appears that a section of the finance ministry is completely backing SEBI, which may have encouraged the capital-market regulator to go hammer and tongs at the insurance companies. SEBI, in a stunning order dated 9 April 2010, had banned 14 life insurance companies from distributing and marketing new ULIPs to customers.
Indeed, a series of presentations and papers by Dr KP Krishnan, the joint secretary (capital markets), before different gatherings since November last year suggest that the predatory incursion by SEBI has its roots in the finance ministry, much before it became a full-blown order. The papers and presentations explicitly highlight the urgent need to address the issue of hybrid products that ‘straddle’ and ‘impact’ different regulators. They openly call for the establishment of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) to improve regulatory co-ordination and resolve ‘cross-cutting issues’.
Moneylife had pointed out earlier (see here), that there was something amiss in this bizarre drama that is being played out between the insurance and capital market regulators. We were among the first to reveal that this was possibly a deliberately created crisis by vested interests in the finance ministry.
In a draft paper to be presented before the ‘Conference on South Asian Financial Systems at a crossroad: Promoting Stability and growth’ in November 2009, Dr Krishnan specifically highlighted the blurring nature of financial products. The exact text in the paper is: “Another issue is that much of the growth in insurance penetration is as a result of selling of products such as the Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs) which is essentially a mutual fund product. The relatively better performance of ULIPs could be attributed, inter alia, to higher commission in insurance ULIPs than for mutual fund products. Thus, there is a blurring of products wherein financial instruments are partaking of multiple characteristics of investment, pension and insurance etc. Some changes in regulatory architecture would be necessary to address this, on which we focus later in the paper,” mentions the draft.
It is obvious that the finance ministry has been aiming for the creation of a super-regulator euphemistically called FSDC. The overlapping nature of investment-cum-insurance products offered by life insurance companies provided the right cause for the ministry to make a case for it. With SEBI providing a spearhead for spreading the finance ministry’s agenda, the issue has now been perfectly orchestrated from inside the corridors of power.
This explains the curious attitude of a seasoned politician like Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister. The minister appeared helpless in resolving this tussle. The minister had earlier indicated that he is powerless to rein in SEBI, asking the two regulators to seek judicial help to resolve their differences. How convenient is it that the second most powerful minister in the Cabinet completely washed his hands of the matter? We now know why.
The finance ministry is refusing to come out in the open and admitting the role it has played in fostering this regulatory battle which it can control and dictate the outcome. Meanwhile, SEBI and IRDA have been left grabbing each other’s throats.
As the blurb says, the author—a graduate of the London School of Economics—has served before the...