Tools down at Pune’s 3 ordinance factories puts forces’ pyro ammunition stock at risk
Ordinance factory at Dehu road wears a deserted look. Black placards line the road and inside a small mandap sit 60 employees sporting the token Gandhi caps.
“Stop corporatisation’”, some shout out; slogans like”Government hosh mein aao” (Government come to your senses) and ‘”Hamari mange lad ke lenge” (We will fight for our rights), follow suit.
A total of 7,400 people are employed by the three Ordinance factories in Pune district, i.e. Ordinance factory, Dehu road, Khadki Ammunition factory and High Explosives factory, Khadki.
As of August 20, all these ordinance employees began a month-long strike.
The Dehu road Ordinance factory produces a wide spectrum of ammunition. “We deal with pyrotechnique ammunition, especially with smoke and illumination. With this strike, there will be zero production, for we work around the clock to provide for the Indian Armed forces,” says Anaji Kharat, another member of the union and a factory worker. “We are demanding the upgradation of these factories with modern machinery; then, there will be no need for corporatisation,” he adds.
The 218-year old Indian Ordinance factories under the Ordinance Factory Board is a central government department. The present government at the centre has now decided to convert these factories into corporations; hence, the strike.
Across India, along with 82,000 defence employees, 40,000 contract workers of factories across India, are also striking against the corporatisation of Ordinance factories.
Union representatives from the All India Defence Employees Federation, Ordinance Factory Workers Union, Bharatiya Pratiraksha Majdoor Sangha, Indian National Defence Workers Federation, and National Progressive Defence Employees Federation, feel that the government corporatising factories will change service conditions and also create problems for employees.
“After corporatisation, will come privatisation, and we are worried about going the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) way, where employees are waiting for their monthly salaries and worried about their future,” says Dheeraj Lohar, joint secretary of the Ordinance Factory workers’ union, Dehu road.
“We have only one customer, that is the Indian Armed Forces and we are the production facility meeting the requirements. By bringing in corporatisation, they are looking at profit making and not at serving the Army. We will loose our status and will become employees of the corporation, thereby depriving us of various benefits. We are not happy with this decision of the government and will be on strike until they change their decision,” says Ashok Thorat, also a member of the union.
Until now the belief was that the Ordinance factories being war reserves and solely dependent on the Armed Forces cannot function as a commercially viable public sector undertaking (PSU). However, previous defence ministers the late George Fernandes, Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and the late Manohar Parikkar, all chose not to corporatise the factories.
Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar on Ordnance workers strike
Lt General DB Shekatkar who headed committee constituted by the Ministry of Defence to recommend measures to enhance combat capability while commenting about ongoing strike by Ordanance factory workers said there is an urgent need to relook on the performance of the Ordinance factories in the country.
Lt Gen Shekatkar said as many as 95 per cent of ordinance factories were started during the Second World War and even before. Post Independence the ordinance factory work performance gradually starting declining, also the so called Union impact began to deteriorate the overall functioning of the ordinance factory. The Committee of experts which is also referred to as Shekatkar committee has recommended that there is an urgent need to have to relook on the performance of the Ordinance factory.
The large number of items of daily use are available at the market at reasonable price however the ammunition weapons like small arms, artillery guns, tanks will continue to be produced out of Ordinance Factory based on the requirement given by the users like the Armed forces and DRDO.
The Committee recommended that some ordinance factories can be clubbed together and amalgamated also there is an urgent need to organise the functioning system of Ordinance factory based on Corporate functioning to ensure economic saving, proper functioning and reduce loses.
Shekatkar also mentioned that many of the small guns produced in Ordinance factory are lying in Ordinance depot as the Army did not accept sub standard weapons. He also stated that the functioning of the ordinance factory is highly influenced by the union, where the work culture has gone down and running in losses.
Corporatisation does not mean closing down factories or reducing the work force but basically to improve performance. Incase the unions do not cooperate with the government and adopt confrontation attitude, it may harm the workers in due course of time and the government is not against workers or any one , but the basic aim is to improve production, quality and cost expenditure and utilise it for modernisation of ordinance factory.