Ordnance Units On Strike, Govt Yet To Share Blueprint

New Delhi: Employees of 41 ordnance factories across the country began a 30-day strike on Tuesday against the Central government proposal to corporatize the entities by converting them into public sector units.

The strike began after talks between various employees’ federations of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Defence Ministry officials failed to arrive at a solution.

At least four employees’ federations — the All India Defence Employees Federation, the Indian National Defence Workers Federation, the Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh and the Confederation of Defence Recognized Associations — have led the strike.

A panel of senior Defence Ministry officials had held talks with the federations on August 14, 16 and 19 in order to persuade employees against the strike.

“The strike has been nearly 100 per cent successful. We were told on Monday that there would be another round of talks on August 21. But so far, we have not received any formal communication from Defence Ministry officials. Our agitation will continue simultaneously with the talks till a solution is reached,” Mukesh Singh, General Secretary, Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh, told IANS.

The Defence Ministry has assured the federations that all reports about privatising ordnance factories are merely rumours. However, the federations have expressed fear that corporatisation will be the first step towards privatisation of ordnance factories because they do not function on market principles.

The factories get 90 per cent of their orders from the Indian Army while the rest 10 per cent comes from various paramilitary forces under the Union Home Ministry. The government is the only buyer of equipment from the factories, most of which have been in existence for more than 200 years.

Employees’ federations have argued that market principles cannot be applied to defence factories because the government decides what they produce, how much they produce, what resource to use, what price to charge and whom to sell.

The strike has reportedly been supported by senior officials too of the OFB that is headquartered in Kolkata, West Bengal.

However, on Tuesday, OFB Chairman Saurabh Kumar issued a statement that corporatisation of the factories is aimed at bettering their functioning.

“Corporatisation of the ordnance factories by the government of India is aimed at improving greater flexibility in day-to-day functioning, increased operational freedom and autonomy in decision making leading to enhanced productivity. This will enable the ordnance factories to respond faster to the futuristic needs of the armed forces and provide an impetus to the export potential of its products,” Kumar said in the statement.

The Defence Ministry which directly oversees the functioning of the OFB is yet to share details of the blueprint for restructuring the OFB. Dr Ajay Kumar, Secretary (Defence Production), had issued a statement last week that there would be no privatisation of the OFB.

Dr Kumar was not available for comment despite repeated attempts by IANS to contact him over phone and through his office.

Sources in the ministry, however, said the government is firm on the decision to convert the factories into PSUs.

“The conversion of the 41 factories to public sector units will take place in a phased manner. The factories producing more sensitive equipment will be dealt with in the last phase,” said a senior official.