NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Thursday sought response from the Centre on a petition challenging its power to prohibit strikes in essential defence services and the imposition of stringent criminal consequences under the Essential Defence Services Act, 2021.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Amit Bansal issued notice to Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Law and Justice on the petition which has challenged the validity of several provisions of the Act on the ground that it gives “unbridled power” to the authorities to declare any establishment as “essential defence services” and to prohibit any kind of participation and support of strikes.
The petition by All India Defence Employees Federation, a national federation of more than 400 registered trade unions, has challenged the constitutional validity of several provisions of the Essential Defence Services Act, 2021 which came into effect from June 30, 2021, saying that they are in violation of Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(c), 21 and 311 of the Constitution of India and International Covenants which have been accepted and ratified by India and are a part of the human rights.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the petitioner, argued that strike was a weapon in the hands of the workmen and any prohibition on the same would be contrary to the established law and labour practices.
The court, however, observed that the petitioner cannot press for the continuance of the “old concept of strike in essential services” in view of a new statute.
“If the desire of the people is that you don’t go on strike, who is the petitioner to say in spite of the desire of the people, of Parliament, I will go on strike even though I am an essential service. People are bound to challenge when you bring a change. You (Centre) file your reply. We will decide,” said the bench and posted the matter for hearing on November 16.
The plea said that the new Act not only provides for a prohibition on strikes by workers under its ambit but also “stringent criminal consequences and jail terms, without the generally available constitutional procedural safeguards, by making the offences cognizable and non-bailable and mandating a summary trial” for offences committed under the law.
“In criminalizing peaceful strikes such as “sit-ins”, “pen down” and “token strikes”, protests and innocent acts such as “mass casual leave” and “refusal to do overtime”, the impugned Sections infringe upon the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.
Under the Act, essential defence services include any service or undertaking dealing with production of goods or equipment required for any purpose connected with defence.