Maharashtra mulls action against striking MSRTC workers under Essential Services Act

đź”´Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act authorises the police to arrest or detain workers in essential sectors without a warrant if their strike affects public services.

After several attempts to resolve the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) workers’ strike that has nearly paralysed public transportation in the state for over a month, the state government is now contemplating action against the striking workers under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA).

MESMA authorises the police to arrest or detain workers in essential sectors without a warrant if their strike affects public services. Such offences are non-bailable. Under the Act, the government can prohibit a strike or enforce staffers to attend duty in public interest. If such essential service workers continue with their strike, they may be arrested and jailed for one year or fined Rs 2,000.

The minister said, “In future, for the benefit of the general public, the state government will not look back if it needs to impose strict laws like MESMA against the striking workers. After discussion with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, further action will be decided.”

While questions are being raised on whether the workers come under the ambit of the stringent Act, which is chiefly meant for health workers, the corporation and Transport Minister Anil Parab claimed that the MSRTC does fall under MESMA as it is the major transport services provider in interior parts of the state.

The workers, however, see the move as another pressure tactic by the government to force the striking workers to resume duty and as an attempt to break the workers’ united efforts, even as the government has been suspending or terminating several staffers or sending them legal notices.

On Friday, the MSRTC suspended over 192 staffers and terminated the services of 61, taking the total number of workers suspended so far to 9,384 and those terminated to 1,980. It managed to run only 1,382 bus services across the state on the day, despite having a fleet of approximately 16,000 buses.

The workers have been on strike since October 27 seeking the takeover of MSRTC by the state government and hoping to avail the benefits of being government employees. Almost all 250 bus depots across the state have been shut since November 9.

The minister further claimed that due to the “illegal” strike, the corporation has suffered a loss of Rs 450 crore and it is increasing with each passing day. “This is a financial loss that will never get repaid in future. The state has already clarified its position regarding the merger of the corporation with the state government and the recommendations of the high-level committee appointed by the high court to look into the demands will be accepted by the state government,” he said, adding that the government will take strict action against those who stop the workers from resuming their duties.

Of the 92,266 MSRTC employees, 18,828 reported for work on Friday, a number which has more or less been the same despite the minister announcing up to 41 per cent hike on the basic salaries of the staffers in order to end the strike.

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