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Essential Defence Services Act: Delhi High Court issues notice to Union govt, Ordnance Factory Board over right to strike

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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought response from the Ministries of Defence and Labour & Employment, besides the Ordnance Factory Board, on a fresh plea challenging the vires of the Essential Defence Services Act, which came into effect in June this year, stating that it takes away the right of personnel engaged in essential defence services to enter into a legal strike.

The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Amit Bansal, while issuing notice, refused to grant stay on the operation of the impugned Act; and posted the matter for further hearing on November 16.

A petition was filed through Advocate Adarsh Tiwari by Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh, a recognized federation of registered trade unions working in defence establishments, including the Ordnance Factory Board.

Claiming that there have been no occasion wherein there has been any short supply of essential defence services attributable to workmen, the plea contended that the Act is repressive, anti-labour and violative of various provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 14, 19 and 21, as also against various legal provisions contained in international covenants. 

The petition pointed out that the Industrial Disputes Act has recognized the right of workmen to enter into a strike, even in public utility services, subject to certain limitations.

Also Read: Tripura High Court issues notice to state govt on PIL seeking probe into recent political violence in state

“The strike, which otherwise would be legal under the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, has been virtually made illegal, through the Act, in the name of Maintenance of Essential Defence Services,” stated the plea, adding that strike is only a form of demonstration. The “right to demonstrate and the right to strike is an important weapon in the armoury of the workers,” the plea noted.

“The legislation vests the government with excessive, unreasonable and anti-democratic powers, which can be misused/abused at any point of time. By creating a facade of Maintenance of Essential Defence Services, the legislation is directly aimed at disabling the workmen from exercising their power of collective bargain against the government’s decision to corporatise the OFB,”

-it added.

The petition was tagged with a similar plea filed by the All India Defence Employees Federation, wherein notices have already been issued. ASG Chetan Sharma, representing the Centre, during the course of hearing in the said petition, informed the Bench that the Act would cease to have effect on expiry of one year from the date on which it received the assent of the President.

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