In strike-prone Kerala, a law to check hartals

In strike-prone Kerala, a law to check hartals

The Kerala government is all set to propose a stern legislation to regulate hartals or strikes which are often backed by political parties.

State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala invited opinion on such a legislation in a post on his Facebook page on Wednesday.

According to the minister, the proposal for a Hartal Control Act comes in the wake of numerous petitions on how such shutdowns are causing inconvenience to the public and the Kerala High Court’s observation, in 2014, on the need for fresh legislation to regulate hartals. “Ahead of the proposal, I seek to know the opinion of the people,” Chennithala said.

With this, the Congress-led United Democratic Front government is set to bring in stringent checks on hartals.

Punitive measures
The proposal says that an announcement of the hartal has to be made through media three days in advance. The government will also use its discretion to deny permission to the hartal if it comes with threats of law and order problems. Once the Act is in place, cases could be registered against people who use force to close shops and threaten people into backing the strike. These crimes could attract up to six months’ imprisonment, a penalty of Rs 10,000 or both.

In July 1997, the Kerala High Court had declared forced bandhs as illegal. The HC order was later upheld by the Supreme Court. Bandh and hartal were legally defined in distinct terms– while a bandh involved use of force on others to support the agitation, a call for hartal depended on voluntary support and not backed with coercion.

Despite the court ruling, bandhs have continued in Kerala in the name of hartal. The state has already witnessed three state-wide hartals this year.

According to anti-hartal activists, hartals called at the district and panchayat level have crossed 100.

While political parties continue to highlight the importance of strikes as an effective form of dissent, recent anti-hartal collectives show growing public opposition to forceful agitations.  Raju P Nair, general convenor of Say No To Hartal, a movement that facilitates transportation for public left stranded on hartal days, welcomed the state proposal. He, however, said there was a need to look beyond terminologies and regulate all forms of coercive strikes. “Agitations should shape democratic opinion. When they involve force, they become pointless,” Nair told Deccan Herald.

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