About 85,000 employees of the 41 Ordnance Factories will be going on a month-long strike from August 20 against the Union government’s move to corporatise the factories.
Three defence employees’ unions, despite their different political affiliations, have come on board to take up the issue as they claim privatisation of ordnance factories will not be in the national interest.
The three unions are All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF) and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
“Any private manufacturer always only looks at the profit. His national interest will be the last. Quality assurance in the private sector will be done by third party inspection and self-certification. It is putting the lives of our jawans and armed forces on the risk. OFBs only work for national interest. One can not give production of core-items like missiles or other key ammunition to a private player,” M.K. Ravindran Pillai, vice president of AIDEF said while adding that in all over the world, quality assurance is always with the government.
Forty one Indian Ordnance Factories across the country are involved in manufacturing arms, weapons, ammunition, tanks, battle field dress, among others for the armed forces. OFB is 218-year-old and is functioning under the Department of Defence Production with its headquarters based in Kolkata.
The Union government is considering a move to convert these ordnance factories and their associated organisations into corporates to boost competition and self-reliant in arms and ammunition production.
An OFB official maintained that ordnance factories can not be run on a commercial basis, since a ‘war reserve’ has to be kept at par with the armed forces to maintain capacity to take care of surge in demands in a war-like situation. “No private sector will be able to maintain idle capacity as a war reserve.”
They also feel that the total life-cyle of defence equipment is quite high and goes up to 20-30 years. Considering this time span and the changing technology level, keeping the same production line alive for such a long period to provide timely maintenance support including the supplier of spares is not economical for a corporate sector.
Besides corporatisation of OFBs, defence officials are also facing a rift between its civilian and Army officials. Like, the Directorate General Quality Assurance has Army officers as well as civilian officers. It is always headed by an officer from the services and there is always a continuous rift between the military and civilian officers.