If you are fed up of the frequent strikes by various transport unions, here's some good news. Union leaders who call for bus, taxi or rickshaw strikes to arm-twist the government and bring the city to a halt can be put behind bars. Political leaders who are found financing or supporting such protests could also face a similar fate.
These are some of the provisions of the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act, 2011, which was approved by the legislative council on Thursday. The Act, which was in force till May 2010, got renewed with more teeth.
The new provisions allow the government to penalise people who instigate or fund strikes that directly hamper public life. Even government employees who participate in such agitations are liable for action. The bill calls for a six-month jail term and Rs. 2,000 fine for employees, and Rs. 2,000 fine and a one-year jail term for persons found instigating the strike.
The provisions include 'transport services that carry passengers or goods, by land or water,' for which the state has the power to make laws. In addition to these, gas supply, milk, maintenance of public health and sanitation - including hospitals and dispensaries - qualify as 'essential services', and employees working in this sector cannot go on strike or enforce lockouts.
Another provision, which the Opposition resisted, says that if the government feels that any service needs to be covered under the Act, it needs to issue a notification that will be tabled in the legislature. The notification will be valid for six months.
“This new provision gives a free hand to the government and is against democracy. Tomorrow, if they want, they can include education or even media under the Act, leaving no room for any sort of protests. This is against the freedom of expression,” said Neelam Gorhe, Sena leader and legislator.
Activists said that though the renewed MESMA needed to be welcomed, the provisions might remain only on paper. “The implementation of this Act needs political will, since all unions are affiliated to political parties and no politician, including ministers want to take up cudgels against another,” said Shirish Deshpande, lawyer and president of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP).
The MGP has filed a public interest litigation in the high court against the rickshaw strike that took place earlier this week. Re-instating the Act was one of the demands made in the PIL.