The internal strife between the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) and its Ordnance Factories has blown over in the past few weeks with 400,000 defence civilian staff going on strike on Monday, more than 82 ordinance factories of Indian Army are going on strike in a war-like situation in the region.
The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), one of the oldest state-owned production entities, has countered the findings of an internal Army assessment that held its “poor quality” equipment responsible for 27 fatalities and losses of Rs 0.96 billion INR to the exchequer.
In a statement, the OFB said only 19 per cent of the accidents involving defence ammunition between January 2015 and December 2019 could be attributed to the board. It based its claim on “defect investigations” carried out after such accidents.
The OFB, which functions under the Ministry of Defence’s Department of Defence Production, added that accidents are a complex phenomenon and can have multiple causes, such as poor gun maintenance, faulty firing drill, invalidated design changes in the weapon, and faulty ammunition design.
It also said the defect investigations are “seldom holistic”.
“The defect investigation is carried out by a committee headed by the Authority Holding Sealed Particulars (AHSP) which is the custodian of the manufacturing documents,” it said.
“The committees include representatives of all the stakeholders including the user. The investigations carried out by these committees are seldom holistic in nature despite the fact that OFB has been insisting on such an approach,” it added.
The Army’s assessment, had highlighted its concerns with respect to the quality of OFB ammo and other equipment, while backing the government’s bid to corporatise the board — an initiative opposed by labour unions.
Corporatisation of the Ordnance Factories was announced by the Government of India in May 2020. The call for a strike on October 12, 2020 by the trade unions associated with the Ordnance Factories, seemingly with the tacit approval of the Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS) group “A” officers comes at a time when the Indian Armed Forces are in a state of high alert.
A similar nationwide strike was called jointly by the three federations in August last year, but it was called off after Defence Ministry officials assured workers that talks will be held. The subsequent discussions, however, did not lead to an agreement.
The Kolkata-headquartered Ordnance Factory Board is the umbrella body for ordnance factories and related institutions, and is currently a subordinate office of the MoD. The ministry has been considering a proposal to convert OFB into one or more than one government-owned corporate entity, registered under the Companies Act, 2013. The move has been part of the recommendations of the three committees formed by the government in the past — TKS Nair Committee in 2000, Vijay Kelkar Committee on Defence reforms in 2005 and Raman Puri Committee in 2015. It has also been brought up for discussion between employees federations and the Defence Ministry, but has never reached the implementation stage.
Opposing the proposed corporatisation, the federations have argued that the public sector model will not be successful for OFB due to its multi-technology and multi-product nature, with drastic fluctuations in the orders from the armed forces and the need to maintain a war reserve. The government’s argument has been that corporatisation would increase efficiency of the ordnance factories, make their products cost competitive and result in quality enhancement.
Senior military and defence ministry officials have said the monopoly has resulted in lack of innovation, low productivity, and high cost of production, and a complete overhaul was the need of the time.