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Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021


Recently, the Minister of State for Defence introduced the Essential Defence Services Bill in the Lok Sabha.


GS-III: Internal Security Challenges, GS-II: Polity and Governance (Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Essential Defence Services Bill?
  2. Understanding Strikes and the punishments in this context:
  3. Industrial Disputes Act 1947

What is the Essential Defence Services Bill?

  • Essentially, the Essential Defence Services Bill is aimed at preventing the staff of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on a strike.
  • It will amend the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to include essential defence services under public utility services.
  • The Bill introduced recently, mentioned 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”.
  • The Government said that since it is “essential that an uninterrupted supply of ordnance items to the armed forces be maintained for the defence preparedness of the country and the ordnance factories continue to function without any disruptions, it was felt necessary that the Government should have power to meet the emergency created by such attempts and ensure the maintenance of essential defence services in public interest or interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India or security of any State or decency or morality”.

These are the lines along which reasonable restrictions can be imposed by law (imposed only by authority of law and NOT by executive action alone), on the Fundamental Rights Guaranteed under Article 19.

  1. On Freedom of Speech and Expression:
    • Sovereignty and integrity of India,
    • The security of the State,
    • Friendly relations with foreign States,
    • Public order,
    • Decency or morality or
    • In relation to Contempt of Court,
    • Defamation or
    • Incitement to an offence.
  2. On Freedom to Assemble Peaceably and Without Arms:
    • Sovereignty and integrity of India or
    • Public order
  3. On Freedom to Form Associations or Unions:
    • Sovereignty and integrity of India
    • Public order or
    • Morality
  4. On Freedom to Move Freely throughout the Territory of India:
    • Interests of the General Public
    • Protection of the Interests of any Scheduled Tribe
  5. On Freedom to Reside and Settle in any part of the territory of India:
    • Interests of the General Public
    • Protection of the Interests of any Scheduled Tribe
  6. On Freedom to Practice any Profession, or to Carry on any Occupation, Trade or Business:
    • Interests of the general public

What does the new bill allow the government to do?

  • The Government can declare any service as an essential defence service if its cessation would affect the:
  • Production of defence equipment or goods.
  • Operation or maintenance of industrial establishments or units engaged in such production.
  • Repair or maintenance of products connected with defence.
  • Government may prohibit strikes, lock-outs, and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services.
  • It may issue such an order, if necessary, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of any state, public order, public, decency and morality.

Understanding Strikes and the punishments in this context:

  • Strikes are defined as a cessation of work by a body of persons acting together and they may include: Mass leaves, coordinated refusals of any number of persons to work, Refusal to work overtime where it is absolutely necessary for essential services to continue, or any other such activity that disrupts work in essential services (in this case, defence).
  • 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.
  • Persons commencing or participating in illegal strikes – Up to one year imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine, or both.
  • Persons instigating, inciting, or taking actions to continue illegal strikes, or knowingly supplying money for such purposes- Up to two years imprisonment or Rs 15,000 fine, or both.

Do we have a Fundamental Right to Strike in India?

  • Right to strike is not expressly recognized in the Constitution of India.
  • The Supreme Court settled the case of Kameshwar Prasad v. The State of Bihar 1958 by stating that strike is not a fundamental right. Government employees have no legal or moral rights to go on strikes.
  • India recognized strike as a statutory right under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

Industrial Disputes Act 1947

  • The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (came into effect in April 1947 – before Independence) extends to the whole of India and regulates Indian labour law so far as those that concern trade unions as well as Individual workman employed in any Industry within the territory of Indian mainland.
  • The Industrial Disputes Act 1947 defines public utility service and strike and puts certain prohibitions on the right to strike.
  • The laws apply only to the organised sector and Every person employed in an establishment for hire or reward including contract labour, apprentices and part-time employees to do any manual, clerical, skilled, unskilled, technical, operational or supervisory work, is covered by the Act.
  • It provides that no person employed in public utility service shall go on strike in breach of contract:
    • Without giving the employer notice of strike within six weeks before striking.
    • Within fourteen days of giving such notice.
    • Before the expiry of the date of strike specified in any such notice as aforesaid.
    • During the pendency of any conciliation proceedings before a conciliation officer and seven days after the conclusion of such proceedings.
  • It is to be noted that these provisions do not prohibit the workmen from going on strike but require them to fulfill the condition before going on strike. Further these provisions apply to a public utility service only.
  • This Act though does not apply to persons mainly in managerial or administrative capacity, persons engaged in a supervisory capacity and drawing > 10,000 p.m or executing managerial functions and persons subject to Army Act, Air Force and Navy Act or those in police service or officer or employee of a prison.

-Source: The Hindu

July 2024