This expression is bandied about whenever there is a major strike or bandh. It is the acronym of a law, Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma), which the government can invoke 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.
Is ESMA proving to be ineffective?
India has come a long way since the days ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) was formulated. In the pre-liberalisation days it was an effective tool in the hand of the government to prevent disruption of services by striking workers. It was also easier to invoke the Act all over the country given that most states were ruled by a single party.
More often that not, the Act was used as a preventive measure rather than as a reactive measure. For instance, if a section of government employees were to go on strike in say September, and if it was feared dialogue between government and unions would break down, the government would get into a state of preparedness much before the strike got underway.
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