Essential Services Maintenance Act

Context: The Uttar Pradesh government extended the Essential Services Maintenance Act in the State, banning strikes in all departments and corporations under it for a period of another six months.

  • ESMA gives police the right to arrest without a warrant anybody violating the Act’s provisions.
  • It has been invoked after taking permission from Governor

Analysis

Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968

  • The Act includes a long list of essential services and it prohibits the key employees in these services from striking.
  • Also, they cannot cite bandhs or a curfew as an excuse not to report to work.
  • The Act allows both Union and States to choose the essential services on which to enforce ESMA.
  • ESMA gives police the right to arrest, without a warrant, anybody violating the Act’s provisions.  
  • ESMA has inherent power to override other laws.
  • Each notification for application of ESMA shall be in force for six months only, but the Central Government may, by a like Order, extend it for any period not exceeding six months if it is satisfied that in the public interest it is necessary or expedient so to do.

What are essential services?

  • Essential services are those which are necessary for the maintenance of normal life in the country.
  • Any service with respect to which the Parliament has the power to make laws or the government feels that its discontinuation would affect the maintenance of supplies and services necessary for sustaining life is considered an essential service.

Which services fall under this category?

  • Services related to the public conservancy, sanitation, water supply, hospitals or related with the defence of the country are considered essential.
  • Any establishment dealing with the production, supply or distribution of petroleum, coal, power, steel and fertilizers also falls under the essential services category.
  • Apart from this, any service in connection with banking can be subject to ESMA.
  • Communication and transport services and any government undertaking related to the purchase and distribution of food grains are also subject to this act. The employees can’t even refuse to work overtime if their work is considered necessary for the maintenance of any of the essential services.

Is it illegal for these employees to go on strike?

  • A strike per se is not illegal, but the government is empowered to prohibit it if it feels that the strike is gravely disturbing public life. For that, the government has to issue a general or special order to end the strike. Any strike becomes illegal after the passing of this order.

What actions can be taken against the employees?

  • Persons who commence the strike, as well as those who instigate it, are liable to disciplinary action, which may include dismissal.
  • As the strike becomes illegal after ESMA is invoked, legal action can also be taken against these employees.
  • There is the penalty for illegal strikes and also for persons giving financial aid to illegal strikes.
  • Any police officer is empowered to arrest the striking persons without a warrant.

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