IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


9th December, 2023 Polity


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Context: The Odisha government invoked the Orissa Essential Services (Maintenance) Act (ESMA) on December 6, 2023, to prohibit strikes by paramedical staff in the state.


  • The Odisha Government has invoked the Orissa Essential Services (Maintenance) Act (ESMA), which prohibits strikes by paramedical staff, including nurses, pharmacists, technicians, and Class III and IV employees in the Health Department. This move aims to ensure that medical services are not disrupted.
  • According to the State Health Department, the order imposing ESMA and prohibiting strikes will be in force for six months from December 6.
  • The decision to invoke ESMA is to prevent strikes in the form of work stoppages by employees associated with medical services in the state, ensuring uninterrupted healthcare services for the population.
  • The prohibition order covers staff working at municipality hospitals, ESI hospitals, Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre in Cuttack, Regional Spinal Injury Centre in Cuttack, jail hospitals, and police hospitals.

Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA)

  • The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) is a pivotal legislation enacted in 1968 to safeguard the delivery of essential services crucial for public welfare and national security.
  • Initially, different states had their versions of this Act, causing disparities in its implementation. ESMA aimed to standardize and create a uniform framework across the nation.

Key Features of ESMA

  • Prohibition of Strikes: ESMA grants the government the authority to forbid strikes in essential services for a specified duration, typically around six months. This can be enforced through notifications issued by the central or state government.
  • Defining Essential Services: The Act defines "essential services" as those vital for maintaining public order, safety, and health. This encompasses services like transportation, communication, power generation and distribution, banking, and sanitation.
  • Penalties for Violations: Individuals or groups participating in strikes in essential services can face imprisonment or fines. Additionally, property used for organizing or supporting such strikes can be confiscated as per the Act.

Significance of ESMA

  • Continuity of Essential Services: ESMA plays a critical role in ensuring the uninterrupted functioning of essential services during periods of labour disputes. This prevents disruptions that could significantly inconvenience the public.
  • Promotion of Industrial Peace: By providing a structured framework for resolving disputes through negotiation and arbitration, ESMA fosters dialogue between employers and employees. This promotes industrial peace and stability.
  • Protection of Public Interest: ESMA prioritizes the public interest over the right to strike in crucial sectors, safeguarding citizens' basic needs and well-being.

Steps Taken

  • Invocation of ESMA: The Indian government has invoked ESMA on multiple occasions to prevent strikes in various essential sectors like transport, healthcare, and banking.
  • Amendments: The Act has undergone several amendments to update the definition of essential services and adapt to changes in the industrial landscape.
  • Labour Reforms: India has implemented labour reforms aimed at improving working conditions and addressing employee grievances, reducing the necessity for strikes and encouraging negotiation.

Challenges Associated with ESMA

  • Potential for Misuse: Critics argue that the Act might be misused by the government to suppress legitimate labour rights, stifling workers' voices.
  • Impact on Industrial Relations: The prohibition of strikes could negatively impact healthy industrial relations, fostering an environment of fear among workers.
  • Effectiveness: Some doubt ESMA's effectiveness in preventing strikes, suggesting that it might drive workers toward more disruptive forms of protest.

Potential Way Forward

  • Promoting Collective Bargaining: Encouraging effective dialogue and collective bargaining between employers and workers could address concerns without resorting to strikes.
  • Independent Dispute Resolution: Establishing robust and independent dispute resolution mechanisms could facilitate fair and timely resolutions, preventing conflicts from escalating.
  • Addressing Underlying Issues: Prioritizing improvements in working conditions, wage disparity, and worker safety could mitigate labour unrest and promote industrial peace.
  • Reviewing the Act: Regular reviews of ESMA are essential to ensure its relevance and effectiveness in a changing industrial and labour landscape.


  • Through proactive measures like promoting dialogue, fair dispute resolution, and addressing underlying labour concerns, India can strike a balance between labour rights and the need for uninterrupted essential services. Such steps could pave the way for a more stable industrial environment benefitting both workers and the nation as a whole.


Q. What is the purpose of the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act (ESMA) in India, and how does it empower authorities to ensure the uninterrupted functioning of essential services during emergencies? Provide examples of situations where ESMA has been invoked and its impact on the maintenance of essential services?