Strike ban bill gets assent as unions ready for battle

Chennai, Oct.5. Just as State Government employees and busmen prepare to launch an indefinite stir, the President has given assent to the controversial Bill banning strikes in essential services in Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act, 2002, which was adopted in the last budget session of the Assembly in the teeth of strong protest from the entire Opposition, has come into force since October 1.

After receiving President's assent on September 24, the Law department recently published the legislation in the gazette, making the Act operational.

Under the law, described as draconian by trade unions and the Opposition parties, any person who commences a strike in essential services, will be punished with imprisonment for a maximum of three years or with a maximum fine of Rs. 5000, or with both. A similar punishment will be slapped on those who instigate or incite or fund the strike.

Though armed with the legislation, the Government can now prohibit strikes only if it issues a separate order specifying the essential services, which come under its purview.

For, though the legislation describes as ``essential'' any transport service for carriage of passengers or goods by motor vehicles and any service connected with water or electricity, under Section 3 (1) of the Act, the Government has to issue a general or special order listing the services. The Government is likely to come out with a separate notification after unions issue strike notices, say government sources.

The leading trade unions had petitioned the President against giving the nod for the bill. And one of the unions also moved the Madras High Court a few months ago. But, as the presidential assent had not been obtained then, the petition was withdrawn.

However, officials sources say, other bills including the one banning spitting and smoking in places of public use and another providing for extension of remand of prisoners through videoconferencing are yet to receive assent.

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