New Delhi: The Narendra Modi-led Central Government has been accused of taking an “illegal, unconstitutional, unjustified” decision without taking affected stakeholders into confidence – sending out the message that there are no lessons being learnt from the ongoing farmers’ movement against the Farm Laws.
The accusation has been levelled by federations representing defence workers – employed in the 41 ordnance factories across the country. The unions have been protesting against the Centre’s proposal to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and its subsequent listing on the stock market.
There are fears that the proposed conversion of the OFB into a government-owned corporate entity will have a negative impact on the service conditions of the defence employees – who total over a lakh – in the future, if not immediately.
Engaged in the production of defence equipment, including critical arms and ammunition for nation’s three armed forces and the paramilitary, the OFB currently currently operates as a defence ministry entity under the Department of Defence Production (DDP).
In a letter dated March 9 addressed to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh it was alleged that the Ministry of Defence (MoD), through DDP, is “repeatedly violating the conciliation settlement” that was earlier reached between the former and the defence federations in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
The need to flag the “violation” to the defence minister was after Singh reportedly held a meeting of an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) earlier this month. The meeting was constituted to oversee the corporatisation of OFB.
“…we are very much shocked to know that the meeting of EGoM under the Hon’ble Chairmanship has taken place recently and have discussed about various modalities regarding the implementation of the decision taken by Government to Corporatise the Ordnance Factories (sic),” the letter said. In other words it was suggested that the Centre is going ahead with the decision to corporatise the OFB at a time when the matter is under negotiation between “the employer and the employers”.
As such, the decision, if taken, will be “illegal, unconstitutional, unjustified and will be bad in the eye of law,” the aggrieved federations claimed. The letter, accessed by Newsclick on Thursday, was signed by representatives of all three recognised defence federations – All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF), and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
‘Government Not Serious’
A settlement was reached between both the parties, the DDP and the defence federations, in the presence of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) in October last year. It ensured that an indefinite strike – called by the federations then – was deferred.
According to the settlement, in exchange of the deferment of the strike move, the MoD was to abide by the provisions of Section 33(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. The provision deals with the conditions of services applicable to a workmen, which, according to it, are “to remain unchanged” during the proceedings of the conciliation talks.
“It seems that the government is only purchasing time with the talks and is not serious about addressing our concerns about the corporatisation of the ordnance factories,” C. Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF, told Newsclick. He added that two meetings of the defence federations with the DDP secretary had been held so far, with the last one convened only in January.
Srikumar added that in those meetings the federations were asked to submit an “alternative proposal” to “improve the performance” of OFB. “We did submit a proposal in November (last year). But we do not think that it was even considered seriously (enough) to be placed before the EGoM,” he alleged.
Newsclick contacted the office of Raj Kumar, Secretary, DDP, but was told that he was not available. A questionnaire was sent to him on his official email address. His response will be carried as and when received.
Among the suggestions made by the defence federations in their proposal include the recruitment of more direct industrial employees, integration of finance and accounts sections and an increased budget allocation to OFB.
Mukesh Singh of the BPMS said that it won’t be in the “interest of the nation and its defence preparedness” if the defence employees’ are not heard with regards to the future of the OFB. “Why were the federations not invited by the EGoM for the meeting where we could have placed our proposal to improve its performance?” he lamented.
‘Situation Not So Different From That of Farmers’
Similar grievances of not being taken into confidence before the enactment of a legislation are being raised with regards to the farm laws by the protesting farmers’ unions, who have been camping at the outskirts of Delhi for over three months now.
“We are awaiting a reply from Mr. Singh (DM Rajnath Singh) to our letter. Our situation is not that different from the farmers who are also not being heard,” Srikumar of the AIDEF said. In case of “no positive reply”, he added that an “action plan” will be discussed among the federations.