Lok Sabha amid the protests, passes Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021.

While Lok Sabha was once again witnessing protests from the opposition on Tuesday’s parliamentary session over Pegasus snooping controversy and farmers’ issues, the Upper house amid all the chaos managed to pass the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 without a structured debate. The bill that aims to prevent the workers of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on strike was passed separately by voice vote before the House was adjourned for the day as Opposition continued with their protests.

The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 seeks to replace the ordinance which was issued in June following the agitation plans of the employees of the Indian Ordnance Factories against the corporatisation of the units. The bill intends to prevent the workers of establishments that are engaged in “essential defence services” from going on strikes, or the lockouts of such units.

What is Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021?

The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 was brought by the government in efforts to maintain the essential defence services so as to secure the security of the nation and the life and property of public at large and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The proposed legislation empowers the government to declare services as essential defence services as halting their work would affect the production of defence equipment or goods of the country. The essential defence services include:

  1. Establishments or units engaged in the production of goods or equipment required for defence-related purposes
  2. The government can also declare any service as an essential defence service if its cessation would affect:a. production of defence equipment or goods,b. operation or maintenance of industrial establishments or units engaged in such production,c. repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.

Apart from this, the bill also prohibits strike and lockouts in “any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services” to maintain the security, Sovereignty and integrity of India. The prohibition order will remain in force for six months and may be extended by another six months.

As per the proposed bill, any person employed in an establishment engaged in such services starts or takes part in a strike considered illegal will be liable to disciplinary action and imprisonment for up to one year or with a fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 or both.

Who will the bill affect?

The bill is likely to impact about 70,000 employees working in 41 ordnance factories around India. Fearing that the bill will impact their service and retirement conditions, the employees’ federations had called for an indefinite strike from July 26 against the government’s decision to corporatise the Indian ordnance factories.

In June, the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given nod for the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) which was earlier managed by the department of defence production and worked as an arm of the government. As per the government’s decision, the 41 factories producing ammunition and other equipment for the defence sector of the country will become part of seven government-owned corporate units making the employees fear that the bill will impact their service and retirement conditions. However, Defence minister Rajnath Singh had also assured the workers that their interests would be safeguarded.

The government has said that the decision was taken in order to improve the autonomy, accountability and efficiency in ordnance supplies, and streamline functioning.

Intent of the bill

The bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on Thursday by the Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt amid the protests by the opposition leaders with the argument that the country needs to maintain its defence preparedness with the help of an uninterrupted supply of ordnance factories.

Amid the existing stand-off between the Indian and Chinese army on the northern front of the country, the government found it necessary to have the power to ensure the maintenance of essential defence services, in case any emergency situation occurs.

Apart from this, as ordnance factories form an integrated base for indigenous production of defence hardware and equipment, therefore the government is also aiming to build the self-reliance capabilities of India in equipping the armed forces with state of the art battlefield equipment.

By Team

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