Nearly four lakh defence personnel have resolved to launch an indefinite strike between January 23 and 25, 2019, against the speedy privatisation of the defence sector. The decision has jointly been announced by three major defence unions, namely, the All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), and the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
The employees have expressed their discontent with the way the Modi government has privatised the defence sector. Speaking to Newsclick, C Srikumar, general secretary, AIDEF, said, “Narendra Modi government has taken a policy decision to privatise the defence production, which is supposed to be with the government and the public sector. When they decided that we are going to do ‘Make in India’ in defence, at that time, we were importing 70 per cent of equipment from abroad. They said, all those 70 per cent items we will manufacture in India in the name of Make in India, by approaching foreign manufacturers and developed countries, bringing in technologies, investments also from them. And, some private companies and corporates will join hands with them to produce in India. Having said that, they wanted to show to the outside world that we have implemented Make in India in defence.”
This was, however, just a clever way of bringing the corporates in. “For that purpose, they have taken a policy decision. In ordnance factories, we are manufacturing about 615 items, but they have withdrawn 274 items out of them. From 2019-20, these items won’t be produced by the ordnance factories, and their production will go to the private sector. And then, they are telling the world that we should make in India. For the past 50 years, we have been making in India,” he added.
As per the employees, 25 factories will be badly affected – mostly which are manufacturing uniforms for the jawans. “The most affected factories are the five factories which are manufacturing troop comfort items for the jawans like uniforms, boots and so on. In one of the factories, 800 workers are women employees. So, what will happen to their future?” asked Srikumar. Employees have also raised concern about the closing down of the army workshops. They have alleged that the government wants to convert army workshops to follow the Government Owned Contractor Operator (GOCO) model.
“These workshops are 60-80 years old workshops with hundreds of acres of land, and these will be handed over to the private sector. This is also one of the major issues that we are opposing,” said Srikumar.
Besides privatisation of the defence sector, the employees have raised another demand concerning their pensions. “There is no pension for the government employees recruited after January 1, 2004. The defined pension scheme is withdrawn, and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had introduced this contributory pension scheme, popularly called as National Pension System (NPS). Initially, when the scheme was announced, the government had said that the employees will get enough pension from this scheme to sustain themselves, but now, what we are seeing is that the employees retiring with this scheme are getting a paltry amount of Rs 1000-1500,” he added.
The employees have been protesting against this privatisation drive since 2017. Newsclick had earlier reported that the federations had demanded that the “41 Indian ordnance factories be dedicated as national assets and be treated as an integral part of the Armed Forces. The country is maintaining a large contingent of Army, Navy and Air Force for the security of the country, and the Ordnance Factories should be maintained as the fourth of the Defence of the country and also in “War Reserve” capacity”.