Esma to be back with more teeth

Karnataka Essential;Services Maintenance Bill to be introduced during the next legislature session

Esma to be back with more teeth

The State government will soon restore the Essential Services Maintenance Act, popularly known as Esma, bestowing itself with powers to crackdown on “illegal strikes” with penal provision that include imprisonment up to one year. 

Esma was first enacted in the State in 1994 and lapsed after a 10-year period in 2004. The State government has now prepared the Karnataka Essential Services Maintenance Bill, 2013, and will introduce it in the next legislature session.

It is mainly to act as a deterrent to ensure there is no disruption of essential services like public transport, health services, water and power supply, sale of essential commodity, among others.

“We had proposed to introduce the bill in the budget session but could not do so due to paucity of time. We will now introduce the bill in the winter session,” Transport Minister R Ramalinga Reddy told Deccan Herald.

As per procedure, it is usually the transport minister who pilots the essential service maintenance bill in the state legislatures. Basically, Esma is a Central law, but each state can have its own separate legislation with slight variations.

Provisions of bill

According to the provision of the 2013 bill, once the State government declares a strike as illegal and that it is disrupting essential services, any person who continues to go on strike can be, on conviction, punished with imprisonment for a term up to one year or a fine up to Rs 5,000 or both.

The penal provisions also apply to those who instigate or provide financial aid to such strikes. The bill also provides for any police officer to arrest a person continuing to participate in an illegal strike without warrant. All offences under Esma are non-bailable.

Once Esma is imposed, the person cannot take recourse to any other act.

Reddy pointed out that both Houses of legislature had passed the bill in 2009 and had been sent it to the President for his assent.

Clarifications sought

However, the Ministry of Power and Ministry of Labour and Employment sought clarifications from the State government on the definition of “strike” in the bill. “We have abided by the modifications specified by the Centre and will introduce the bill afresh”, the minister added.

The last time Esma was invoked in the State was in 2000 when pre-university teachers boycotted evaluation work for more than a month.

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