Lok Sabha passed the Essential Defence Services Bill-2021 on August 3 amid protests by Opposition members over allegations of snooping by the government using the Pegasus spyware, and the three farm laws.
The Bill replaces an ordinance and seeks to allow the central government to prohibit the workers of establishments that are engaged in “essential defence services” from going on strikes, or the lockouts of such units.
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The Bill was passed by a voice vote within 15 minutes without any discussion as the Opposition members continued shouting slogans. Congress leader of the house Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary argued that the government deliberately did not agree to debate and passed the Bill amid the din.
Here are the key features of the Bill:
What is the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021?
The Essential Defence Services Bill is aimed at preventing the staff of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on a strike. The Bill mentions that that it is meant to “provide for the maintenance of essential defence services so as to secure the security of nation and the life and property of public at large and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
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What is an essential defence service?
According to PRS Legislative Research, the essential defence services include any service in any establishment or undertaking dealing with production of goods or equipment required for defence-related purposes, or any establishment of the armed forces or connected with them or defence. These also include services that, if ceased, would affect the safety of the establishment engaged in such services or its employees.
How does the Bill empower the government?
As per the provisions of the Bill, the government may also declare any service as an essential defence service if its cessation would affect the (i) production of defence equipment or goods, (ii) operation or maintenance of industrial establishments or units engaged in such production, or (iii) repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.
Prohibition on strikes, lock-outs, and lay-offs
The Bill empowers the central government to prohibit strike and lockouts in any industrial establishment or unit engaged in essential defence services. The government may issue such order if necessary in the interest of sovereignty and integrity, security of any state, public order, decency, or morality. The prohibition order will remain in force for six months, and may be extended by another six months, under the Bill.
What was the trigger behind the Bill?
The Bill, in its statement of objects and reasons, refers to the Indian ordnance factories, the oldest and largest industrial setup under the Ministry of Defence, whose employees’ federations had called for an indefinite strike from July 26 against the government’s decision to corporatise them. The strike proposed after the government decided to corporatise the 41 ordnance factories across India into seven 100 per cent government-owned corporate entities, registered under the Companies Act 2013, is said to have triggered the ordinance and now the Bill.
What are the punishments under the Bill?
As per the Bill, the 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.
Also, persons instigating, inciting, or taking actions to continue illegal strikes, or knowingly supplying money for such purposes, will be punished with up to two-year imprisonment or Rs 15,000 fine, or both.
Further, such an employee will be liable to disciplinary action including dismissal as per the terms and conditions of his service. In such cases, the concerned authority is allowed to dismiss or remove the employee without any inquiry, if it is not reasonably practicable to hold such inquiry, according to the PRS Legislative Research. All offences punishable under the Bill will be cognisable and non-bailable.
What will be the impact of the Bill?
While the Bill was being passed in Lok Sabha, Revolutionary Socialist Party MP NK Premachandran moved an amendment against the Bill saying that it takes away rights of workers. He said as many as 84,000 workers will be affected, if the Bill becomes a law. Many reports said that the Bill will affect as many as 70,000 workers employed across 41 ordnance factories and other establishments that the government might tag as engaged in essential defence services.