Four lakh defence civilian employees in India boycotted food including tea the whole day while on duty on Thursday, 11 January, to attract the attention of the government to their demand to stop privatisation and closure of defence establishments.
The defence civilian employees working in more than 430 defence units all over the country adopted this course of action after the government repeatedly refused to consider their representations.
The protest action is part of the agitational programme jointly decided upon by the three recognised federations of defence employees' unions - the All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), and the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
A number of recent defence-related policy decisions by the Narendra Modi government have raised concerns regarding national security as well as jobs, and the defence employees unions have been protesting against these.
These decisions include the moves to privatise defence production, and to outsource more than 250 items manufactured by the 41 Ordnance Factories to the private sector by declaring those items as "non-core".
When in the past the Army went in for procurement of such items from outside in the name of "low technology", the result has been inadequate supply and poor quality of the items supplied, the unions have pointed out.
The government has also decided to do away with the system of providing stitched uniforms to soldiers, choosing to give a grant of Rs. 10,000 per soldier as uniform allowance. This would compromise quality and would affect more than 12,000 employees involved in strategic uniform manufacturing in 5 Ordnance Factories.
The unions are also protesting the decisions to close station workshops, to hand over Army base workshops to private contractors, to close Depots and 39 Military Farms, and to reduce the manpower in Military Engineer Services (MES).
The dilution of the role of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Directorate General Quality Assurance (DGQA) are also being opposed by the federations.
The unions have expressed serious concern about 31,000 employees being declared "surplus" and about the privatisation of work being done by the Navy.
AIDEF, INDWF and BPMS have so far submitted four joint representations to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, requesting her to reconsider these policy decisions, and to have a negotiated settlement in the interest of defence preparedness and national security.
The joint agitational programmes were decided upon by the three federations following the refusal of the government to consider these representations or to invite the recognised federations for a negotiated settlement.
Following the protest action on Thursday, a joint memorandum will be submitted to the Defence Minister through the Head of Establishments on 12 January.
The Federations have also given notice to the government for observing a massive demonstration in Delhi before the Parliament on 15 February, and for a call-attention strike on 15 March.
"The Federations and the Defence Civilian Employees are of the strong view that the policy decision of the Government to view Defence production as a business and on that ground to dismantle the National Assets of Defence Industry built up over a period more than 6 decades after Independence is not a justified decision," said an AIDEF press release issued by C Srikumar, the General Secretary of the AIDEF.
"Since the state owned Defence Industry is the fourth force of the Defence of our country, the Federations demand that these industries should be maintained and strengthened by treating them as 'War Reserve' at par with the Armed Forces," said the AIDEF.