BSNL cable theft goes unchecked

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A huge racket involving BSNL staff has been draining the public sector unit of a vital resource for the past four years.

An investigation by DC has revealed that underground high-value optical fibre cables used by the company have been disappearing in a systematic way.

The cables are mostly vanishing from places dug up by Corporation and Metro Water for maintenance and road expansion. The thefts have been reported to police stations at Kellys, Anna Nagar, Secretariat Colony and Kilpauk, but investigations have been pending for months.

The cable movement registry, a record of inventory kept at the Anna Nagar store of BSNL, has mysteriously disappeared. DC found that the lock and seal on the storeroom was broken and the data book stolen.

“Except for one conviction—of a BSNL telecom mechanic—such cases have not gone beyond the police FIR level,” said V. Sathiabalan, Telephone Advisory Committee member, Chennai.

BSNL sources said the cases registered were just the tip of the iceberg and several crores had been swindled in the past four years through cable thefts.

A big scam involving BSNL staff is going unchecked for the past four years as underground high-value optical fibre cables are being looted in a systematic way.

An exercise aimed at minimising the inconvenience caused to the public has come in handy for thieves to dig into the resources of a public sector organisation, said sources.

For more than four years now, thefts of BSNL’s optical fibre cables have been regular occurrences at places where the Corporation and Metro Water dig for maintenance and road expansion works.

An investigation by this newspaper revealed that theft cases reported at the local police stations at Kellys, Anna Nagar, Secretariat Colony and Kilpauk have been pending for months.

What makes the issue all the more important is the disappearance of the cable movement registry, a record of cable inventory kept at the Anna Nagar store of BSNL. Sources say that the lock and seal of the storeroom was broken and the data book stolen.

“Except for one conviction – that of a BSNL telecom mechanic – almost all such cases do not move beyond the police FIR level,” said Mr V. Sathiabalan, Telephone Advisory Committee member, Chennai, adding, “I have raised the issue at several advisory committee meetings held among the top brass of BSNL, but there is no respite.”

The storeroom, which is sealed at night after stock-taking and opened in the morning in the presence of a senior officer, houses almost all valuable inventory of the region’s office. Expensive laptops, computers and cables were left untouched and only the data registry was taken, pointing at the immediate need for in-depth investigations, he added.

BSNL sources admitted that the cases registered were just the tip of the iceberg and emphasised that several crores of rupees had been swindled in the past four years through cable thefts.

Field-level BSNL officials do not provide relevant information to investigative officers nor do they report the issue to their own vigilance department who are technically sound in such cases, sources said.
When contacted, a senior official at the BSNL vigilance cell confirmed that BSNL OFC cables were periodically being looted in the Chennai north region and said that investigations were now reaching an advanced stage.

BSNL general manager (North) Ms Kalavathi too confirmed the theft cases but denied that BSNL was going slow with the issue. “There are procedures to be followed and only after confirming prima facie, stern action can be taken by vigilance officials. The culprits will not be spared, so far three BSNL staff have been placed under suspension and one person arrested,” she said.

A coordination committee has been formed between the BSNL and the Chennai Metro Rail to protect the underground cables wherever rail duct works are taken up.

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