(C) Copyright 1995 Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (rishab@dxm.org)

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Indian telecom strike ends; 80 bids for basic services

23rd June 1995: The "indefinite" nationwide telecom workers' strike ended today morning. The strikers protested against the entry of foreign investors in basic telecom services, especially when public sector companies such as ITI (which made its first loss in this, its 47th year) are not being permitted to participate in the bids. Minister for Communications Sukh Ram last night threatened dismissal of more than 400,000 workers who joined the stike, which had been declared illegal. This was an unusual move, considering that the government still does not allow corporate bankruptcy and lay-offs.

Meanwhile, 80 bids were announced for the tender for basic telecom services. 16 companies, all joint ventures between Indian firms and foreign firms (with a maximum 49% holding for the latter), bid for all regions ('circles') of the country apart from the troubled northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The biggest bidder by far was by Reliance Corp, collaborating with America's Nynex. Reliance, a huge industrial conglomerate with more shareholders than any other company in the world, was the only bidder for many poor and remote states that came into the tender's 'C' category. US West, which is conducting a controversial pilot project in rural telephony in south India, only bid for fairly wealthy parts of the country along with its Indian partner, BPL. India's capital, Delhi, was the most popular, perhaps because Bombay, the richest market, came along with the rest of the state of Maharashtra.

Foreign collaborators included Bell Atlantic, Hughes, NTT, AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, Telstra, Telecom Malaysia and Israel's Bezeq. Notable absentees were Singapore Telecom, Bell South, France Telecom and GTE, all of which had previously formed joint ventures with Indian firms. Two surprises were Moscow Telecom, which bid for really backward areas including the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands south of Myanmar, and PTT Guangdong of China, which played safe with Delhi.

Compared to the response from 32 companies for the nationwide cellular services tender on June 7th, that for basic services today was thought low-key. The complete list of bids is available here.

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