The Parliament approved Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, on Thursday with its passage in Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on Tuesday amid protests by Opposition members over various issues.
The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, seeks to replace the ordinance promulgated in June 2021 and allows the Central Government to prohibit strikes, lock-outs, and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services.
Introduced in Lok Sabha by defence minister Rajnath Singh on 22 July, 2021, the Bill is aimed to prevent the staff of government government-owned ordnance factories from going on strike.
What is the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 about?
The Bill will replace the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, which permits the Centre to prohibit strikes, lock-outs and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services.
According to the Statements of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, Indian Ordnance Factories is the oldest and largest industrial set up which functions under the Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence. They form an integrated base for indigenous production of defence hardware and equipment, equipping the armed forces with state-of-the-art battlefield equipment.
The Centre contends that the Ordinance and Bill is intended to ensure an "uninterrupted supply of ordnance items" to the armed forces. As the document put it, it was felt necessary that the government have the power to ensure that the ordnance factories continue to function without any disruptions and ensure the maintenance of essential defence services.
The Statement of Objects said the ordinance issued on June 30 defines the expressions "essential defence services" and "strike". It empowers the Centre to prohibit strike in essential defence services and provides for disciplinary action, including dismissal, against employees participating in strike. It also provides for penalties for "illegal strikes, instigation thereof and providing for financial aid to such illegal strikes."
The prohibition order will remain in force for six months and may be extended by another six months.
Strikes and lock-outs that are declared after the issue of the prohibition order or those that had commenced before the prohibition order was issued will be illegal. The prohibition will not apply to lay-offs made due to power shortage or natural calamity, or lay-offs of temporary or casual workmen.
Fines and penalties for strikes
Employers violating the prohibition order through illegal lock-outs or lay-offs will be punished with up to one-year imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine or both.
Persons initiating or participating in illegal strikes will be punished with up to one-year imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine or both. Persons continuing illegal strikes, or knowingly supplying money for such purposes, will be punished with up to two years imprisonment or Rs 15,000 fine, or both.
Such an employee will be liable to disciplinary action including dismissal as per the terms and conditions of his service.
All offences punishable under the Bill will be cognisable and non-bailable.
Opposition to the move
The decision has invoked outrage from several quarters, with protests and planned strikes from the recognised federations of the employees and scathing criticism from the Opposition.
"Most unfortunate vital bills are being passed without discussion in Parliament because NDA/BJP won’t come clean on Pegasus. All these bills have a bearing on our future as a democracy. For eg: The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 listed today (is) a draconian piece of legislation," Congress MP Manish Tewari had tweeted earlier today.
Who will the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 affect?
The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 has a direct bearing on around 70,000 employees of the 41 ordnance factories around the country, who are unhappy with the corporatisation of OFB, fearing that it will impact their service and retirement conditions.
In June, the government announced the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board which was otherwise directly under the Department of Defence Production and worked as an arm of the government.
As per the new plan, 41 ordnance factories that make ammunition and other equipment for the armed forces will become part of seven government-owned corporate entities.
(With inputs from agencies)
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