The TOI had broken the news on privatisation of ABWs—the Government-owned Contractor-operated (GOCO) Model—in January 2018 and also reported about a few ordnance factories likely to be shut down. The MoD has now set dates to close three more army workshops.
The move comes amidst continuing protests from the 4-lakh-strong defence employees attached with the All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), which is planning to stop work for three days from January 23.
Among the units listed for closure are two Advanced Base Workshops in Narangi (Guwahati) and Udhampur (J&K) and the static workshop in Delhi, which are to be closed by March. Vehicle depot in Panagarh (WB), Central Ordnance Depot in Chheoki (UP) and ordnance depot in Shakurbasti, Delhi, will be closed by March, July and December, respectively.
While MoD is acting on recommendations of the Lt Gen (retd) DB Shekatkar committee, defence employees say handing over strategic businesses to private industry could affect national interest in the long run, just as shutting down depots and workshops will.
AIDEF general secretary C Srikumar argued this will affect preparedness as “private firms aren’t as committed given that their top priority is profit.”
Responding to this, the MoD spokesperson said: “Operational preparedness will be kept as utmost priority on implementation of reforms,”
The four ABWs to be privatised under GOCO model are workshops 506 (Jabalpur), 508 (Allahabad), 510 (Meerut) and 512 (Kirkee). The MoD wants this done by April and the industry will require to make no real investments.
Under the scheme, an MoD circular, reads: “Government will provide land, infrastructure, plant and machinery, equipment system support, oversight and facilitate the contractor…”
However, industry sources said that nothing concrete has happened after the Centre first conceived the GOCO model last year. “It is unclear as to what will be achieved as the industry must keep the same workforce, and no clear model has been spelled out yet so far as I know,” Rahul Chaudhry, chairman, Defence Innovators and Industry Association (DIIA) told TOI.
AIDEF office bearers said that some companies have informally visited a few ABWs, “but the response has been poor.” “…But the government is somehow obsessed with privatising it.
On whether there has been a lackluster response from the industry, the MoD spokesperson said: “In this regard, a formal response from the industry is yet to be sought.”
Further reiterating the federation’s stand against privatisation, Srikumar said: “All the previous defence ministers had assured us that no item that are already being manufactured by the ordnance units will be given to private players and even for new items, we will get preference. But now more than 270 defence items have been declared as non-core and handed to private players.”
He said that the three-day strike has support from all the three major unions under the federation and that it comes in the backdrop of poor response from MoD officials.
MoD spokesperson, however, said: “Defence employee federations are being consulted at different levels and a number of meetings have been held with their representatives on March 9, 2018 (by Joint Secretary-Army), and, December 17 and January 11 (by Secretary-defence production) to resolve the issue,” the spokesperson said, adding that assurance has been given that “no employee shall be removed from job.”