The Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma) was enacted in 1968, to (as its name indicates) maintain “certainessential services and the normal life of the community.” The Act includes a long list of “essential services” in its charter -- ranging from post and telegraph, through railway, airport and port operations -- and it prohibits the key employees in these services from striking.
But the Act also allows states to choose the essential services on which to enforce Esma. (Jammu and Kashmir, incidentally, is exempt from Esma.) So for instance, only some days ago, Andhra Pradesh decreed that its IT industry was an essential service. This thrilled bodies like National Association of Software & Service Companies (Nasscom) because, as one industry representative put it:
”[W]hat this means for employees is that they cannot resort to strikes. Also, they cannot cite bandhs or a curfew as an excuse not to report to work. Moreover, companies which depend heavily on outside transport providers had to bear the brunt as the transport services were hit during a bandh or a curfew.”
Esma gives police the right to arrest, without a warrant, anybody violating the Act’s provisions. ”Any person who commences a strike...or otherwise takes part in...any such strike shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both,” the Act reads. ”Any person who instigates...a strike which is illegal under this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”