ESMA not answer, address grievances

ESMA not answer, address grievances

Two recent attempts of the Karnataka government to browbeat agitating workers into submission have come unstuck as the high court stayed its decision to enforce the draconian Karnataka Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). The court's orders are welcome in both cases because the employees of the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) and the pourakarmikas of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), who had threatened to go on strike, had genuine grievances that needed to be redressed rather than suppressed. Namma Metro staff went on a flash strike to protest against what they termed as the high-handedness of the Karnataka Industrial Security Force personnel, detailed for security duty at Metro stations, alleging that a couple of their colleagues had been beaten up. No doubt, it is the duty of the state to ensure that public utility services do not get disrupted at any time, but invoking ESMA is not the best way to handle such situations. BMRCL should set up a robust grievance redressal mechanism so that such incidents are attended to immediately, rather than allowing them to escalate.

In the case of the strike by pourakarmikas, there was even less justification for imposition of ESMA, as the government itself was at fault for not fulfilling promises made to them. In June, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah announced a Cabinet decision to regularise the services of 11,000 pourakarmikas, including 4,000 in the BBMP, and to directly deposit the salaries of the existing 17,000 pourakarmikas in Bengaluru into their accounts to ensure that they got their full wages, and on time. But a powerful nexus of BBMP officials, politicians and garbage contractors has ensured that the promises have not been met so far. It is a known fact that some contractors have been claiming salary bills based on inflated numbers of workers and hence they have been resisting direct payment into workers' accounts. Pourakarmikas threatened to go on strike as they had not been paid for three months. The government later pacified them by promising to clear their arrears in instalments. It's time the chief minister intervened and ensured that there is no further delay in implementing the cabinet decisions. The government should also deal with garbage contractors with an iron hand to prevent further mistreatment of their workers.

Having been rapped on the knuckles by high court, the government should exercise extreme caution in invoking instruments like ESMA. While the government has to ensure that there is no disruption in essential services, its higher duty is to move the whole society towards a just order, and to not use its powers to commit injustices on the weak.

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