Ordnance factory employees up in arms, threaten strike     

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been manufacturing helicopters since the mid-seventies. HAL has acquired expertise in the field, supplying more than 600 helicopters to the army. But the Government continues to buy helicopters from foreign vendors, making a mockery of ‘Make in India’     

By 2025, the Modi Government had pledged, India would become a defence export hub. But defence production has suffered and despite opening up of the sector, no major project has received a clearance

All India Defence Employees Federation representing 430 unions across the country is threatening to strike work to protest against the Government’s policies. In a bid to parcel out orders worth ₹15,000 Crore of ammunition alone to the private sector, says the federation, the Government has pulled back production targets of ordnance factories.

Manohar Parrikar as defence minister had set a target of manufacturing worth ₹20,000 Crore for the ordnance factories by 2020. The target for 2018-19 was fixed at ₹17,500 Crore. But the defence ministry has reduced it to ₹10,000 Crore, they allege.

The unions apprehend layoffs and blame the Centre for reducing both the budget as well as production targets of ordnance factories. Even Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., they point out, does not have a healthy order book despite delivering on the Light Combat Aircraft and several types of helicopters. The Government has not only dropped the plan for HAL to manufacture the French Rafale fighter jets, which would have given it a major boost, even helicopters are being purchased from foreign countries (see accompanying piece).

The federation claims to represent 400,000 defence employees. It apprehends that what is happening is just the tip of the iceberg and that the Government has far more ambitious plans to promote defence procurement from foreign and private vendors at the cost of indigenous production. A delegation of the federation did call on the Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman but federation sources maintained that no specific assurance was received.

Let alone exporting and competing in the international market, the last four years have witnessed a major setback to indigenisation, say experts. But will the issue be raised in Parliament and discussed at all is the question

There are 41 ordnance factories in the country which employ 90,000 people. Many of them face an uncertain future following the curtailment in the budget and production targets.

In the memorandum submitted to the Defence Minister, the federation claimed that in the last one year alone, as many as 250 items were taken out of the product-range of ordnance factories. They were classified as ‘ non-core’ products and handed over to the private sector.

Says the federation general secretary C Srikumar, “There is huge unrest in the sector. Instead of strengthening the ordnance factories and help in capacity building, the Government appears determined to crush the factories.”

He claimed that a strike in August appeared certain with nobody from the Government willing to listen to the workers. R Srinivasan of INDWF Union exclaimed that in place of creating more jobs, the Modi Government has been busy taking away jobs.

The decision to shut down Military Farms, EME workshops, four Depots and converting the Army Base Workshops and declaring as many as 31,000 civilian employee’s surplus, says Srinivasan, is regressive.

The Federation of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) vendors claims that the Government has cancelled orders worth several thousand Crores. Around three lakh people employed with the vendors are on the brink of losing their jobs, they informed.

Federation President Neeraj Raizada told NH, “We were supplying to Ordnance Factories and now that their targets have been slashed, our crisis has deepened.”

He cited a study to claim that 80% of the sub parts and complex assemblies are done in these 6000 and odd units. The Government, he claimed, had officially communicated that the targets had been slashed because the defence forces, the ultimate users, had informed that they no longer needed the products or had curtailed their requirement.

There is widespread surprise because the Vice Chief of the Army Staff had informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee that the Indian Army was short of both arms and ammunition. In the meeting with the federation, however, the defence minister maintained that the armed forces faced no shortages and were adequately armed to face any emergency.

Raizada says the small and medium ancillary units are facing a crisis because they had already placed orders for raw material and in many cases, advances had been paid. There had been no response to pleas made to the PMO and the ministry, he said, adding that the units may file a Public Interest petition (PIL) in the Supreme Court.

Defence expert and economist Mohan Guruswamy told NH, `Modi Government has opened up the space for America. It is unprecedented. In the last four years the whole focus is on buying weapons, aircrafts, helicopters from other countries; no Make in India… it is clearly not the focus of the government.’

Let alone exporting and competing in the international market, the last four years have witnessed a major setback to indigenisation, say experts. But will the issue be raised in Parliament and discussed at all is the question.

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