A pending merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular could lead to close to a quarter of the operators’ combined workforce being laid off, The Economic Times (ET) reported.

Sources told the newspaper around 5,000 staff could be made redundant over the coming months as the companies prepare to reduce costs and streamline operations. Idea has about 11,000 employees: Vodafone India around 10,000.

“The retrenchment has to happen swiftly because in times of margin pressures in a debt-heavy industry, both companies do not want to start new operations burdened with excess manpower,” a source told ET.

Another source said the numbers could exceed 5,000 since there is a high level of duplication.

A Vodafone India representative told ET: “This is pure speculation and totally untrue. No decisions have been taken about the workforce of the merged entity.”

The merger, which will create a new market leader in India, is in the final stages of the approval process. Department of Telecoms secretary Aruna Sundararajan said in late March authorities were accelerating the process and the only hurdles remaining were clearance by the foreign investment and licence departments.

Vodafone Group and Idea’s parent Aditya Birla Group aim to complete the transaction in the first half of the year.