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Outstandings at Rs 4,867 cr -- Bills unpaid hang over BSNL, MTNL

G. Rambabu

NEW DELHI, April 7

DON'T be surprised if the largest basic telecom companies in the country - Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) - start bleeding in the next couple of years.

As per the latest estimates available with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), even while their average revenues per month have been steadily falling, the total outstanding dues of their subscribers have touched a huge Rs 4,867 crore.

While the outstandings from BSNL subscribers are understandably higher at Rs 3,791 crore, it being the incumbent operator all over the country except Mumbai and Delhi, MTNL, which operates in these two metros, is owed Rs 1,076 crore by its subscribers.

To top it, the average revenue per month per line of BSNL is down at Rs 650.59 from Rs 676.08 in the previous year. Similarly for MTNL, the average revenue has declined to Rs 1,055.95 from Rs 1,059.68.

According to official sources, the estimates submitted by BSNL showed that the largest group of defaulters were individual subscribers with outstandings of Rs 3,506 crore, followed by State Governments (Rs 217 crore), the Union Government (Rs 48 crore) and the defence organisations (Rs 19 crore).

MTNL's list was topped by, again, private subscribers at Rs 1,076 crore, the Union Government (Rs 18 crore), defence organisations (Rs 5 crore) and State Governments (Rs 4 crore).

What was even the more alarming, they pointed out, was that more than 30 per cent of BSNL outstandings (Rs 1,154 crore) and 53 per cent of MTNL's (Rs 580 crore) were more than two years old.

While both the companies claimed that all efforts were being made to recover these dues, the statistics did not indicate so, they said.

The various steps being taken by them include constant telephonic reminders, disconnection of phones, deployment of telephone revenue inspectors and field staff, recovery suits, setting up of liquidation boards and even the use of other Government machinery such as the police and revenue department. Incentives were also being offered to the staff to help in this process.

Significantly, the sources noted that these estimates were based on collections up to December 2001. There is a time lag of three months, before the companies collate their quarterly statistics.

If you keep in mind the fact that STD rates have been slashed by 60 per cent from mid-January 2002, the picture gets only worse. The average revenues of BSNL and MTNL have invariably come down, with volumes not keeping pace with the price cuts; though to what extent it is not yet clear.

The final estimates for the last quarter of the year 2001-02 will be available only by June. That's when the real extent of damage could be assessed, the sources said.

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