The revolution in the Information Technology was key to the fall of two major central government PSUs, the HMT and the ITI in Srinagar. Both the units employed a few thousand people at their peak operations. Unlike HMT that would dominate the debate and figure in almost every state-central talk, the ITI is silently gasping to death, reports Umar Mukhtar
Bashir Ahmad, a middle-aged man, every morning packs his lunch box and leaves for the office. He routinely reaches office exactly 9:30 am, puts his tiffin under his table where he sits all day. Once he sets his personal belongings aside, he picks up a duster and some cleaning chemicals, sprinkles on the landline telephones kept on a big rectangular table.
Ahmad is working at Indian Telephone Industry (ITI), Srinagar (ITI Limited), a central public sector unit (PSU) established in 1969.
There are different models of landline telephones lying around. It takes him around one hour to complete the dusting. Once the telephones are clean and in order, he then leans on his chair and reads the newspaper he already brings with him. He has no other work to do for the rest of the day. What Ahmad does, the other colleagues exactly do the same thing, no work. At 4 pm, the vehicles outside the building are waiting, to ferry employees back home. Ahmad picks up his lunchbox back and sets for the home.
With no work to do, Ahmad and his colleagues are not happy with it but want to work and contribute. “This is the place we earn from,” one of them said. But the situation is such that their willingness for working even ends in sitting idle for full days in the office. There is no work to do.
ITI Ltd is basically India’s first independent public sector unit after the British left India. The first unit of the ITI came up in 1948 in Bangalore. There are now six units and 14 regional offices across the country.
After establishing the Srinagar unit in 1969, it was made the head office for north India. At its inception, there were only five employees who worked in the unit. It was established as an ancillary to Bangalore for the supply of component parts (initially different kinds of braided cords). Later in 1981, the status of the plant was upgraded to that of a manufacturing facility for the manufacture of telephone Instruments with an installed capacity of one lakh instruments.
The facility was doing well on the assembly line. Gradually, it was manned by 500 staffers. The Srinagar facility had BSNL and defence as their main buyers for the manufactured and assembled gadgets. “We used to receive an order for thousands of telephones in one go,” recalls nostalgic Ahmad. “The demand was so huge that we used to work overtime as it fetched additional incentives.” The last time Srinagar unit got a big order was from the BSNL in 2013, for 5000 telephones.
Till 1990s, the ITI was doing tremendously well, making good profits. But after the makeover of the technology sector in India, this PSU took a hit. As the demand dried up, manufacturing stopped.
In contrast to the growing success rate and the dedicated staff of more than 500, the Srinagar unit has now only 60 employees left waiting for their retirements. All of its verticals are non-functional. The machinery lies defunct and is rusting in locked up rooms.
What negatively contributed to the once blooming PSU was that the unit could not move beyond its conventional operations. As the world adopted the advanced technology, the failure in ITI policymaking proved costly for the huge government-owned company.
It did not happen in Srinagar alone. It happened everywhere across India in ITI operations. The company started losing its sheen and prestige with the inception of the technology. In the 90s when LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalisation) concept crept in, the markets were diversified. So the traditional approach of the ITI resulted in losses.
“Had the management that time diversified we could have survived,” said one employee. In 1995, the PSU all-over suffered a huge loss of Rs 350 crore for the first time. Since then, it continued booking the losses.
To manage the crisis, the company has decided to reduce its staff strength. The employees were offered a golden handshake, a one-time settlement, to quit the jobs. All recruitments stopped since 2001.
But it did not help the company. The company kept on losing the contracts. ITIs all six units suffered huge losses.
With the advent of the mobile technology, the chances of bouncing back became remote for the ITI. As the cell phone swept the market, the demand for the ITI gadgets fell to the bottom. Despite the losses, the unit continued getting the assistance from the central government. A grant of around Rs 7 crore is being extended to the Srinagar unit yearly, which funds their salary.
Now the unit lacks resources to even manage the assets it owns. The land around the office is waterlogged; the walls look shabby. In the courtyard are broken and abandoned departmental vehicles.
The Srinagar ITI unit operates from state-owned land, which it got on a lease contract. Since the lease has expired, the state government is in no mood to renew the lease of a “sinking ship”. Part of the ITI building stands encroached upon by the police and paramilitary forces. The spot where the ITI’s assembly unit exists is now in possession of the police.
Resource constraint is reflecting in the kitty of its idle staff. Since 1997 they did not hike. They are rarely being paid their dues.
Revival and Hope
With continuous loses and no possibility of any work, the PSU saw a ray of hope in 2014’s digital India concept. They started diversification.
Now the ITI is producing a range of switching, transmission, and access and subscriber premises equipment. It also produces Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment such as network management systems, encryption and networking solutions for internet connectivity, and secure communications networks and equipment for India’s army. The company has over 3500 employees as of October 2017.
Also, ITI took a government contract of Adhar card making and they almost made 40 crore Adhar cards. In 2017, for the first time after 1995, the company had Rs 252 crore profit without the aid.
The change in ITI, however, bypassed Srinagar and it continues to be on shaky grounds. There is still no work to do as the unit was not diversified. The employees there are trying their best to get involved in skill development. They are meeting the officials to negotiate and to bring glory back to the unit. “If the government would put their efforts in it we can transform this into a skill development institute, else we fear this unit will end like the HMT,” said Ahmad.