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SC outlaws govt strike

New Delhi, Aug. 5: The Supreme Court today dictated a ruling that said government employees in general did not have “legal, fundamental and moral or justifiable rights” to strike work.

The order, which will be formally pronounced tomorrow, was dictated almost in its entirety today in the open court for the benefit of the parties involved in the Tamil Nadu employees’ case.

Tamil Nadu had dismissed around 200,000 of its employees for participating in a strike it had declared “illegal”.

A division bench of Justices M.B. Shah and A.R. Lakshmanan said the employees had “no legal right, no fundamental right and no moral or justifiable right” to strike work.

This, the judges said, was the general principle adopted by larger benches in several similar cases, so a two-judge bench could not overrule that proposition.

The bench cited the railway employees case of 1985 where the apex court had upheld the dismissal of all striking workers but asked for their reinstatement on humanitarian grounds.

In the current case, the bench accepted the state’s additional affidavit which said all workers, except 6,072 found to have indulged in violence during the strike, would be taken back.

“This is a very good relief” which should be acceptable, Justice Shah told the employees’ counsel P. Chidambaram, T.R. Andhiyarjuna and Rajeev Dhavan.

Chidambaram and Dhavan, however, objected to the state initiating action against the 6,072 on the basis of an ordinance amending the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma).

Justice Shah then shot back: “Strike is no answer or remedy to any problem... you have learnt a lesson now... you strike work and you will be punished”. But Chidambaram argued that the trade unions concerned and the affected employees had a right to challenge the ordinance.

Justice Shah said: “You know our general view about strikes... in this, even force could have been used to stop it... you strikers only create hindrance to the progress of the country.”

The judges, however, clarified that all affected parties could go before “an appropriate forum” — Madras High Court, for all practical purposes — to challenge the amendment act and the ordinance, but no public interest litigation would be allowed in any form.

The bench dismissed a PIL by a Mylapore organisation seeking to ban all strikes because they hurt the public.

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