OFB Corporatization – Still a long way to go

By Financial express

The Essential Defence Services Ordinance (EDSO) promulgated by the Centre last week makes it illegal for the 70,000 plus workers and officers running the network of the 41 ordnance factories across the country to strike work against the government’s decision to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) that administers these factories and other associated organisations.

While the ordinance may have removed a major impediment in implementing the tendentious decision, it also betrays an impulsive streak in decision-making and the absence of adequate planning or blueprint for achieving the intended results. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) still has a long way to go and cross several hurdles to achieve full corporatisation and realise its intended benefits.

The recommendation to corporatise the OFB to improve its efficiency was made by the MoD-appointed Kelkar Committee in 2005 but it remained in limbo till it was resurrected by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in May last year as a part of the package to repair the pandemic-savaged economy. As the later events show, this abrupt announcement was made without any groundwork or clarity of purpose beyond nebulous notions of defence reforms needed for achieving Atmanirbharat, or self-reliance, in defence.

The immediate fallout of the announcement was the workers’ federations’ decision to go on strike which was later withdrawn by them following the violent clashes in the Galwan Valley between the Indian Army (IA) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The government too agreed to hold its hand and launch negotiations with the workers’ federations, which evidently produced no fruitful results.

Appearing before the Standing Committee on Defence in 2008, Dr Vijay L Kelkar, chairman of the eponymous committee that recommended OFB’s corporatization, had counselled the committee to first meet the workers’ federations to obtain their viewpoint.

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