Narendra K. Yadav chairman and managing director of MTNL

Narendra K. Yadav has a challenging job on hand as chairman and managing director of MTNL. Yadav, who is also member, services, Telecom Commission, and ex-officio secretary to the government, intends to bring back the loss-making telecom PSU back on track and work on synergies with BSNL…

MTNL’s best interests and future lie in some sort of synergy with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), says Narendra K. Yadav. When he took over as chairman and managing director (CMD) last year, he found a bleeding PSU. The company had paid Rs 11,000 crore to the government for broadband wireless access (BWA and 3G) spectrum. Its mobile revenues were about Rs 800 crore per annum – not even enough to service the interest on the loss it was running.

One small mercy, says Yadav, was that when the company asked the government to take back BWA spectrum, the latter agreed and refunded the principal to MTNL, though not the Rs 2,000 crore in interest it had paid.

“But now we are trying to work out some synergy with BSNL. BSNL makes money from mobile services (their spectrum charges are not as high as ours). About 55 per cent of its revenues come from mobile services. For MTNL, this figure is only 15 per cent. We are looking to improve that,” he says.

The two PSUs are working on an arrangement wherein BSNL will make the capital investment and MTNL will have a revenue sharing arrangement with it. The arrangement makes sense. It will allow MTNL to focus on basic services, which pri­ncipally means converting 3.5 million copper loops in Delhi and Mumbai to facilitate broadband connections.

Since copper loops are prone to theft and induction problems, the company is also working on installing optic fibre cable. One project involving providing fibre to all MPs in Delhi is under way. Some 700 MPs already have it in their official homes. Another project involves providing high speed Wi-Fi at MPs’ homes through fibre is in progress.

In line with the synergising efforts, the two organisations are working towards offering a uniform tariff structure to their enterprise customers. MTNL is also trying to utilise BSNL’s infrastructure that is present around its operational areas. For example, MTNL intends to use BSNL’s base transceiver stations in the National Capital Region to provide better network coverage to its customers in Delhi.

In Mumbai, the company is working on a surveillance programme to install 6,000 cameras around the city to prevent crime and terrorism, and ensure greater safety to the public. “We are doing this in partnership with Larsen & Toubro. The first phase was inaugurated in November. The cameras will be managed by the police. The next step is connecting our fibre to 50,000 multi-storey buildings in Mumbai and 50,000 multi-storey buildings in Delhi,” says Yadav. The challenge of laying a fibre network is right of way (RoW). Yadav says MTNL will lay underground cable wherever it manages to get RoW and where it doesn’t, it will install overhead cables.

Telecom still excites Yadav after all these years in the industry, particularly the compelling need to take broadband to villagers. He graduated in electrical engineering from Delhi University and followed this up with an M.Tech in computer science from IIT Delhi. He joined the Department of Telecommunications in 1977. Subsequently, he worked as general manager in Bhopal where he was in charge of developing the network in Madhya Pradesh. He has since worked all over the country in various posts with MTNL and BSNL. Currently, in addition to his work as CMD, he is member, services, Telecom Commission, and ex-officio secretary to the government.

The word secretary prompts him to recall a childhood incident. It seems that just weeks after his birth a visitor to the house took one look at the baby and predicted – rather specifically – that he would become “top official in the government” when he grew up. “I have a very simple theory. All children are excellent, better than their parents. They need to be told some big things. If they believe in those, they will start believing in themselves and once you start believing in yourself, you can rise to great achievements. If you believe in yourself, it will happen,” he says.

“The main issue is RoW. Where digging is not possible, we are working with BSNL, RailTel and Powergrid, and we will go on lateral poles. We are also trying to involve the state governments because once they are involved, RoW problems get resolved more easily.”

While his father, a mechanical engineer, influenced him about engineering, much of Yadav’s thinking and approach to life has been moulded by the teachings of a few gurus. While he was living in Bhopal, he came in contact with Swami Satya Tirth Bharti, who is known as the “Japanese Guru” because he is now based in Japan. It was Osho who sent him to Japan to spread the message. After meeting him in Bhopal 10 years ago, Yadav learnt meditation from him. On most days, he meditates for two hours from 4 to 6 a.m.

Yadav first turned to meditation be­cause of a series of tragedies. In the space of 13 years, he lost his mother, fa­ther, mother-in-law and father-in-law. The cruellest blow, however, was three years ago when his 23-year-old son and only child died in a road accident in Man­ga­­lore where he was studying.

His wife has never really recovered from the loss. For six months, Yadav felt profoundly disturbed and devastated. Gra­dually, though, thanks to his guru, he managed to emerge from despair and to accept the tragedy. In fact, he says that his energy levels now, as he approaches 60, are similar to when he was in his 40s, and he intends to harness these energies so that he can put them to good use. But more on that later.

His interests are spirituality and science and how the two can be fused. Apart from reading authors like Robin Sharma and Osho, he enjoys watching the podcasts of T.T. Rangarajan, a software consultant in Chennai who founded Alma Mater, a counseling service.

His interest in spirituality has not made him withdraw from the world. On the contrary, it has proceeded alongside a desire to improve the quality of life of those around him. Among some of the highlights of his career, he recalls being given charge of BSNL’s entire rural network across the country in 2000.

Using CDMA technology, he increased the coverage from 30,000 to 70,000 village public telephones (VPTs) a year. “In villages where there was no connectivity, where people had to walk 10 km to an STD booth to make a call, we set up a VPT. It made their lives much easier,” he says.

Yadav also fondly remembers being in charge of the company’s operations in Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pra­desh in 2008, where he was responsible for laying out lines and spreading mobile connectivity. “The security situation was so tense that you could get guns on hire. We would hear firing in the distance and my driver would tell me to wait before moving on. We could not go out in the evenings. Luckily, we had a lot of local people working for us and that gave me confidence. They explained all the issues to me,” he says.

Touring Arunachal Pradesh had to be done mainly by helicopter because for six months of the year, the roads are closed due to snowfall. He relates the satisfaction of installing a mobile tower right alongside the border with China and seeing the smiles of the soldiers posted there when they were able to speak to their families back home.

Yadav believes the Northeast is finally making progress with better connectivity, better roads, competitive tariffs and higher levels of literacy. His concern is that rural Indians have been lagging behind urban India in connectivity and he now wants to focus on helping them catch up.

The government aims to connect 250,000 villages with optical fibre by 2018. At one point, he admits, this seemed like an unrealistic target but he says that considerable progress has been made and it can now be achieved.

“The main issue is RoW. Where digging is not possible, we are working with BSNL, RailTel and Powergrid, and we will go on lateral poles. We are also trying to involve the state governments because once they are involved, RoW problems get resolved more easily,” he says.

In the past two years of the Narendra Modi government, Yadav says decision-ma­k­­ing has become faster, coordination am­­ong ministries has improved, and there is less red tape. Monitoring of big projects, he says, is carried out by the prime minister himself. “There is a lot of pressure on the top management now. You have to perform.”

In the process of coming to terms with his son’s death, Yadav realised that he had to work on something bigger than his own life, work on a bigger scale, a larger canvas, a wider scope. “I have to work for myself and I also have to work for my son,” he says. “I have to do what he would have done too. Although I retire this year, I am going to keep working.”

One retirement plan is to work with a guru to set up a big hospital at Jaora, near Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh. “The hospital will offer allopathic treatment and all alternative treatments – the best of these. And it will give this treatment free of cost,” he says.