Rural telephony and telegraphy are set to get a huge, fresh influx of funds, with Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology A. Raja saying on Saturday that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) Fund rules will be amended to make it easier to access the funds.

Over Rs.20,000 crore of USO Fund lies unutilised with the Consolidated Fund of India because the rules governing the release of the fund were too rigid, he said at a meeting of Telecom Employees Progressive Union here. “We will amend the rules governing release of the funds in the coming session of Parliament,” he said.

The USO Fund was initially established with the fundamental objective of providing access to basic telegraph services in the rural and remote areas at affordable and reasonable prices. Subsequently, an Act was passed in 2006 -- the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act 2006 -- to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 to enable provision of all types of telegraph services. The rules were subsequently amended in order to enable support for mobile services and broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas as Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules 2006.

Addressing members of the union, which is affiliated to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s labour wing, the LPF, he said it was a fact that as of now only BSNL was in a position to access this fund. But he also welcomed private players to roll out rural connectivity. They will have access to the funds for the purpose of providing rural connectivity, he said.

Earlier, C. Kuppusami, president, LPF and TEPU, and north Chennai MP T.K.S. Elangovan, wanted the Minister to look into the demands of parity in pay and promotion of BSNL employees. There should not be discrimination on issues of promotion or bonus, they said, and demanded that the Minister intervene and sort out the issues.

Mr. Raja said he was of the view that the workers’ demands should be considered at the earliest. On bonus, he said that BSNL, a public sector unit, was not considered a purely service entity, unlike the Department of Posts. Hence, the funds from the PSU only could be used for giving away bonus.

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