Amid din over the Pegasus snooping issue, the Lok Sabha Tuesday passed a bill that prohibits employees of ordnance factories to go on strike. The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, was passed by a voice vote without any discussion.
Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt, presented the Bill for passage as the House convened at 2 pm even as Opposition leaders shouted slogans and created a ruckus demanding discussion over the Pegasus issue.
While the Opposition called the Bill “draconian, that would deprive employees of their democratic rights to protest,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was present in the House, said the government had taken all employee unions into confidence before passing it.
“I urge all MPs that this Bill has been brought keeping the interest of workers in mind. This Bill has been brought so that there are no hindrances to supplies for our defence forces. We have already had a discussion with all the unions in a very cordial atmosphere. It is possible that we not even need to invoke provisions of this Bill. In any case, it is only for one year,” Singh said.
Initiating a discussion on the Bill, Bhatt said, “There is no law to ensure defence needs and supplies are met without hindrance. An ordinance was promulgated last year. This Bill is in the interest of national security. No worker or employee is going to be impacted.”
Bhatt said the Bill had to be brought because workers gave a notice of strike. “If there was no notice for strike, it would not have been brought forth. No fundamental rights are going to be violated and all facilities for employees will remain. There is a sunset clause in the Bill. We have spoken to all employees. There is no crisis. I assure all members and urge them to pass the Bill,” he said.
Amid the ruckus, RSP MP NK Premchandran, said: “This is a very important Bill. There are 41 ordnance factories in India. It is an indirect way of privatisation of OFBs. The sole purpose is to ban strikes. There are 84,000 employees and their legitimate right to protest is being taken away. I want to move amendment, but it is unfortunate that the passing of the Bill is not proper. It is not fair to pass bills amid the din.”
Repeated requests from Speaker Om Birla to maintain calm and debate the Bill were ignored by the Opposition members.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “It is draconian and being brought to throttle the democratic rights of the workers. Government is not in the mood to discuss. Our demand is that you discuss Pegasus and we will discuss all issues. This Bill should not be passed when the House is not in order.”
TMC MP Saugata Roy said the Bill was anti-labour. “Workers have given a strike notice opposing the corporatisation of ordnance factories,” he said.
The Bill, which was introduced on Thursday, mentioned that that it is meant to “provide for the maintenance of essential defence services so as to secure the security of the nation and the life and property of public at large and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. But in its objectives, the government has stated: “Indian Ordnance Factories is the oldest and largest industrial setup which functions under the Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence. The ordnance factories form an integrated base for indigenous production of defence hardware and equipment, with the primary objective of self reliance in equipping the armed forces with state of the art battlefield equipment.”
Further, it noted that since it is “essential that an uninterrupted supply of ordnance items to the armed forces be maintained for the defence preparedness of the country and the ordnance factories continue to function without any disruptions, especially in view of the prevailing situation on the northern front of the country, it was felt necessary that the Government should have power to meet the emergency created by such attempts and ensure the maintenance of essential defence services in all establishments connected with defence, in public interest or interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India or security of any State or decency or morality”.
The Bill empowers the government to declare services mentioned in it as essential defence services, “the cessation of work of which would prejudicially affect the production of defence equipment or goods; or the operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment or unit engaged in production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence; or repair or maintenance of products connected with defence”.
It also prohibits strike and lockouts in “any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services”.