The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 – Explained

Published on: August 03,2021 10:55 IST

By Khushi Agarwal

Recently, a Bill named The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha. The main aim behind introducing such a Bill was to stop and prohibit any form of strike by anyone who is engaged in essential defence services.

The Bill came after replacing the Ordinance which came in June under Article 123 of the Constitution and Section 19 of the Bill clearly mentions that The Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 is repealed.

Section 1 of the Bill makes it very clear that it will be applicable to the whole India and would come into force on 30 June 2021.

In light of this, the article explains the concept behind this Bill.

What is Ordnance Factory Board?

Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is an organization or an umbrella term comprising forty-one Ordnance factories, nine training institutes, three regional marketing centres and five regional controllers of safety.

Its work includes developing, researching, producing and testing various products in the areas of land, air and sea systems.

Factories under OFBs are one of the major producers of weapon and ammunition for military, paramilitary and police forces. Besides this they also supply parachutes, military vehicles, optical devices, explosives, chemicals, etc.

The board is under the control of Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence. It is Asia’s 2nd largest and world’s 37th largest manufacturer with a workforce of around 82,000. The organization is about 200 years old and is headquartered at Kolkata.

Why was such a Bill brought?

Recently, the Indian Government decided to corporatize the Ordnance Factory Board into seven corporate entities. This decision was taken to make the Board more effective and to meet the changing time needs. The decision was also taken keeping in view the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

While something like three boards of trustees on defence reforms set up by the legislatures somewhere in the range of 2000 and 2015 have suggested the corporatization, it had not been executed till now.

The thought of corporatization was recorded as one of the 167 ‘groundbreaking plans’ to be executed in the initial 100 days of the Narendra Modi government’s subsequent term.

However, the move was not praised by many. Decision to corporatize was opposed by many amongst who were the three recognized federations of Ordnance Factory workers namely, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) of Left unions, Bhartiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) which is an arm of RSS affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, and Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) of the Indian National Trade Union Congress.

They created a united front against the Government’s decision and warned the Government of launching a joint agitation against this decision.

They asked the Government to either withdraw the decision of corporatizing or otherwise face a strike by the workers. Around 85% of the workers voted in favour of indefinite strike.

Although the exBill reason is not known but it has been guessed that this move of bringing the Bill is due to the warnings given by the workers of the Ordnance Factory Board to go on indefinite strike.

Along these lines, the Essential Defence services Bill was brought for restricting any tumult and strike by anybody occupied with the fundamental defence services.

What is Essential Defence Services Bill?

Section 2 defines Essential Services very accurately. The Section states,

“essential defence services” means—

  1. any service in any establishment or undertaking dealing with production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence;
  2. any service in any establishment of, or connected with, the armed forces of the Union or in any other establishment or installation connected with defence;
  3. any service in any section of any establishment connected with defence, on the working of which the safety of such establishment or employee employed therein depends;
  4. any other service, as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be essential defence services, the cessation of work of which would prejudicially affect the—
  5. production of defence equipment or goods; or
  6. operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment or unit engaged in production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence; or
  7. repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.”

This means that any service that deals with the goods that are connected with defence or the armed forces will come under Essential Services.

Any service which can affect production, maintenance or operation of defence goods or establishment producing those defence goods will be deemed to be as Essential Services.

The Section also defines ‘strikes’ as stopping or slowing down the work by people who are engaged in doing that work. It also includes refusing to work overtime when the work is necessary.

It is understandable from Section 3 of the Bill that the Central Government can prohibit strikes in the Essential Defence Services on six grounds which are:

  • Public interest,
  • Interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India,
  • Security of any state,
  • Public order,
  • Decency,
  • Morality.

If the Government is satisfied that on the above-mentioned grounds, it is necessary, the Government can restrict the people of the Essential Defence Services to go on the strike.

According to Section 3(3), the order of the Government to prohibit strike can be for the period of six months. However, the Government has been given the power to extend that period in the public interest.

As per Section 3(4), after the order to stop the strike has been issued under Section 3(1), no person of the Essential Defence Services can remain on strike and if any person remains, it will be seen as illegal.

The Police officer has the authority to take all the steps and use police force to remove any person, presence of whom would be prejudicial to the functioning, safety or maintenance of the Essential Defence Services, as provided under Section 4 of the Bill.

What is the punishment under the Bill?

As per Section 5 of the Bill, disciplinary action including dismissal can be taken against a person who commences or remains in the illegal strike or instigates other to remain in such illegal strike.

Also, if the authority that is empowered to remove such person or take action against such person is satisfied, no inquiry will be undertaken.

According to Section 6, any person who takes part in or remains in the illegal strike, under the Bill shall be punished with imprisonment of up to one year or with fine up to ten thousand rupees or with both.

The person who instigates or incites other to take part in or remain in the illegal strike shall be punished with an imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to fifteen thousand rupees or with both, as per Section 7.

Section 8 punishes anyone who with his knowledge provides money to support such strike which is illegal with imprisonment of up to two years or with fine which may extend to fifteen thousand rupees or with both.

What is the Jurisdiction under this Bill?

Section 12 states that all the offences under the Bill shall be tried by the Metropolitan Magistrate or by any Judicial Magistrate of the first class empowered by the State Government and the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code from Section 262 to 265 will be applied to such case.

The offences under the Bill under Section 13 have been defined as cognizable, that is, the police do not need warrant and non-bailable.

The undertakings which supply the basic necessary services such as electricity, water, gas, power, transport etc. comes under the concept of the public utility services. This Bill will amend the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to include essential defence services under public utility services.

Although the Right to Strike is considered as a Fundamental Right under Article 19(1) of the Constitution by many, it is not so and in fact; Right to Strike has not been recognized expressly by the Constitution of India.

Due to The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Right to Strike is seen as a Statutory Right and not as a Fundamental Right.

Supreme Court in the Judgment of Kameshwar Prasad Vs. The State of Bihar clearly stated that Right to Strike is not a Fundamental Right. Hence, the above Bill cannot be said to have taken anyone’s fundamental right and is therefore legal.


The Bill has been brought to prohibit lockouts and strikes in any industrial establishment or the unit engaged in essential defence services. The Bill clearly states that it has been brought in order to “secure the security of the country and the life and property of the public at large and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

As Armed forces are very critical to the security of the whole nation, it is fundamental that a continuous stockpile of the arms things to the military is kept up with for safeguard readiness and that the manufacturing plants should keep on working with no type of interruptions.

Therefore, in order to make sure that no emergency situation occurs and if it occurs, the Government has the power to control it, the Bill has been put forward in the Lok Sabha.

If the services of the Ordnance Factory Board stop due to strike, it will not only affect the takers of the goods but also the whole country and that is the reason behind such a Bill.


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