Parliament passes bill to bar strikes in units providing essential defence services
The Parliament on Thursday passed a Bill that allows the government to prohibit strikes and lockouts in units providing essential defence services. The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, was cleared by Rajya Sabha after Lok Sabha passed it on August 3.
It was introduced in the lower house on July 22 to replace an ordinance promulgated in June.
The ordinance was issued after the Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the corporatisation of India’s main producer of weapons and military equipment, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), to boost its efficiency and competitiveness in a long-awaited reform in the country’s defence manufacturing sector.
The ordinance made it illegal for the employees of the OFB to go on strike. The factories controlled by the board employ at least 70,000 people who were against the move to corporatise it.
Speaking in Rajya Sabha, defence minister Rajnath Singh said, “It is being said that the Bill denies the right to peaceful protest. I want to clarify that this bill does not, in any way, deny the right to peaceful protest… We want to improve the autonomy of the ordnance factories and increase their efficiency.”
Essential defence services include units or undertakings involved in the production of goods or equipment required for defence. Also, the government can declare any service as an essential defence service if its termination affects the production of defence gear or maintenance of defence equipment.
Under the bill, the government may prohibit strikes, lockouts and lay-offs to protect the country’s sovereignty and integrity. Those violating the prohibition order can be punished or fined, or both.
The OFB, which controls 41 ordnance factories, will be split into seven government-owned entities that will produce ammunition and explosives, vehicles, weapons and equipment, troop comfort items, opto-electronics gear, parachutes and ancillary products.
Ordnance factories are currently engaged in the production of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, mine-protected vehicles, bombs, rockets, artillery guns, anti-aircraft guns, parachutes, small arms, clothing and leather equipment for soldiers.
Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said, “There are many precedents in this House and breaking all these precedents, new precedents are being set. The Bill brought by the defence minister is on the additional agenda and this was not supposed to come up today for discussion. But the way there is a ruckus in parliament… They are taking advantage of this situation... and they are getting this Bill passed in some way. This bill is very important. I request you (chair) to send it to a select committee where it will be reviewed.”