Three defence employees’ unions have urged the President and the Defence Minister to order a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the leaking of sensitive defence information to the press.
Defence employees are preparing for an indefinite strike from October 12 against the Bharatiya Janata Party led government’s move to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). They argue that there has been a systematic campaign to tarnish the image of OFB in the public domain by certain vested interests after the government’s decision to corporatise ordnance factories.
In a letter on October 1, three employees’ unions -- All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) and Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) -- urged President Ram Nath Kovind and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to immediately order a CBI probe “to find out the truth behind the systematic leakage of sensitive information on national security to the public domain” and take action on the people responsible for the same.
Earlier this week, citing an internal army document, several news outlets had reported that the Indian exchequer has incurred losses of about Rs 960 crore because of “poor quality ammunition and mines” supplied by the OFB in the last six years. Further, the reports alleged that the use of OFB manufactured equipment has resulted in over 400 accidents between 2014 and 2019 due to which 27 military personnel died.
Following this, the OFB on Wednesday, September 30, refuted the allegations on the issues raised in the internal army report. “Out of the total number of accidents where defect investigation has been completed, only 2% of the cases where casualties have been reported are attributable to OFB. In 98% of the cases where there have been casualties, these are not attributable to OFB. Between 2011 and 2018, there have been more than 125 accidents involving ammunition procured from sources other than OFB, both domestic and foreign. It is, however, seen that only cases where OFB ammunition is involved are selectively reported in the press,” stated a press release signed by Gagan Chaturvedi, Deputy Director General of OFB.
Also read: Complaint with CVC Alleges Dilution of Standard Norms in Process to Hire Consultant for OFB Corporatisation
It is certain that a lobby is working towards damaging the reputation of ordnance factories, said C Srikumar, general secretary of AIDEF. Talking about the leaked information to the press, he said, “Such actions will have far reaching consequences not only on the national security and defence preparedness of the country but also damage the commitment and reputation of the workforce of ordnance factories.” He added that the unfounded leakage by whomsoever amounts to violation of the Official Secrets Act 1923, the Army Act, 1950, and the Army Rules, 1954.
While the allegations against OFB have raised controversy, authorities of the armed forces and the Defence Ministry have remained silent on the matter.
Meanwhile, about 82,000 employees of the 41 Ordnance factories are preparing for an indefinite strike from October 12 against the corporatisation of OFB.
In May, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the corporatisation of OFB (of converting the board into a government-owned corporate entity) and its subsequent listing on the stock market.
The defence employees have held a series of agitations in the last few years against the government’s plans to bring in private players into the defence sector. Last year, defence employees’ unions had called for a month long strike against the government plans of privatisation of ODF. At that time, the government officials constituted a high level committee on the issue which even consulted with union leaders but its report has not yet been made public.
Last month, in a letter to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, former Director General of Ordnance Factories and Chairman K Dwarakanath expressed serious concerns about the government’s decision to corporatise the ordnance factories. He said that it was a hasty decision and “would be amounting to doing disservice to the defence efforts.” Instead, he had suggested the appointment of an expert committee for the revival of OFB.
Also read: OFB: 82,000 Defence Employees to Go on Indefinite Strike from Oct 12 Opposing Corporatisation Move