The Army, which is at present seeing eye-ball to eye-ball with Chinese troops in Ladakh, has put at least 45 key items, including different types of ammunition, warm clothing meant for troops deployed in areas like Ladakh, man-landing parachutes among other things, on a critical list.
The army, through the department of defence production (DDP), has asked the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to ensure supply of these items on priority at a time more than 80,000 employees have threatened an indefinite strike in July.
DDP Documents reviewed by TOI show that the stocks of 20 of these critical items are ammunitions, which are below ‘10(I)’ levels. This means that their present stocks are insufficient “to undertake 10 days of ‘intensive’ full-spectrum fighting.” Of these 20 items, five ammunitions are those that the army not only gets from the ordnance factories, but also through imports, and the stocks are still not up to the desired levels.
Listing out another 21 items, the army said: “…The following items are likely to become critical in case of disruption of normal supply.” These items include combat dress, ‘Coat ECC’ (coats meant for extreme cold conditions), ponchos and caps for glaciers, supply dropping equipment and man-parachute items.
Aside from this, the DDP has also pointed out the shortfall in supply of three artillery guns, indents for which were placed earlier. More than 167 such guns are yet to be delivered by the OFB, whose productions have been hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, there’s also short supply of 196 mine-protected vehicles.
“There has been no supply of these items in the past three months with various ordnance factories having been diverted to produce Covid-19 related items, or remaining shut due to the lockdown restrictions,” one source said.
The OFB, which received the note marked “most urgent” from the DDP on June 9, has since communicated the same to general managers of the 41 ordnance factories spread across the country, but employee federations representing the 80,000+ workers say they are firm on the indefinite strike, which is being called against the government’s decision to corporatise OFB.
“It is requested to hold discussions with federations, confederations, associations of OFB…and to convince them that the interest of the employee would be completely safeguarded in this process and the government would certainly hold formal discussions with all stakeholders in this regard,” the DDP communication to OFB reads.
All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) general secretary C Srikumar, however, said that the strike ballot — a referendum to see if employees support the strike — conducted between June 8 and 17 has got a 99.9% support for the strike.
“The government, which convinced us in August last year to withdraw our strike saying it will negotiate, suddenly announced as part of its Covid-19 package that it has decided to corporatise OFB. We are not just fighting for employee interest but to save the industry as a whole. We have seen what happened to BSNL after it was corporatised, we don’t want ordnance factories to become like that as it would be against national interest,” he said.
The DDP, acknowledging the strike ballot, told OFB: “…It is requested to direct general managers of factories to hold discussions at their level with the employees. It is believed that such discussions would remove the apprehensions and reduce anxiety…OFB may also plan production of critical items given in the annexure in each factory such that defence production of the country is maintained.”
Sri Kumar said: “All ordnance employees are patriots, we have proved that in 1962 and many other occasions. So, we strongly urge the government to withdraw its decision on corporatisation and let us work peacefully in fulfilling the nation’s defence requirement. How can we work when our future is uncertain?”