Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) – UPSC Prelims

What is Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA)?
  • Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) allows the government to prohibit striking employees from refusing to work in certain essential services, which are necessary for the maintenance of normal life in the country.
What are essential services?
  • Any service with respect to which the Parliament has 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 public conservancy, sanitation, water supply, hospitals or related with the defence of the country are considered essential.
  • Any establishment dealing with 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.
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.
  • Any police officer is empowered to arrest the striking persons without a warrant. Persons participating in or instigating the strike are punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to one year or with fine or both.
What is the Essential Commodity Act?
  • The Essential Commodity Act empowers the government to control production, supply and distribution of certain commodities.
  • The act is aimed at maintaining or increasing supplies and for securing the equitable distribution and fair price availability of these commodities.
  • The act is also intended to work against unethical trade practices like hoarding and black-marketing.
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