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Assam strikes against strikes

- Dispur prepares draft to curb bandhs and blockades with punitive action

Guwahati, Nov. 22: Student unions, political parties or any other group in Assam may soon have to think twice before calling a strike as it would invite punitive action.

A draft law, The Assam Prevention of Unconstitutional Bandh Act 2013, prepared by the state government says a bandh is unconstitutional and an offence as no individual or organisation has the right to paralyse the educational, economic and industrial systems.

“Such a claim or exercise will be wholly unlawful and cannot be judged as a legitimate exercise of fundamental right of any person or group, and any violator thereof shall be liable to be dealt with under the provisions of this act,” the draft says.

It says participation in bandh will invite imprisonment up to two years and a fine of Rs 10,000 per day, failing which one will have to face another two years in jail.

Blockades, causing partial closure of economic activities, shall be liable to punishment with one year in jail and fine of Rs 5,000, failing which further jail of six months.

Sponsors, organisers and participants of the bandh and related meeting, processions and demonstrations shall be personally and collectively liable for the losses caused, including destruction of public and private properties.

The draft proposes that government employees, recipients of stipends and concessions, scholarship holders, laptop and bicycle winners and other student benefit holders may lose the benefits if they abstain from duties, classes and assignments in response to bandh calls.

The government, if it thinks necessary, may direct printers, publishers or an editor of any publication, including newspaper or any other media, to prohibit any writing or display supporting bandhs or the organisers’ cause. Violation of such orders may invite imprisonment between one and two years and fines.

Deputy commissioners or sub-divisional officers may open temporary deposit bank accounts into which those calling or taking part in protests like blockades or processions will make contribution. Any compensation payable to any person affected by the protest may be paid from the account. The money may be refunded in case of no need of compensation payment.

The draft, however, does not say how the government intends to tackle bandhs called by militant groups, which is common in Assam. It does not say what should people, caught between militant strike calls and the government’s law against bandh, do.

Sources said the draft, prepared by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge K.N. Saikia, was recently submitted to Dispur. It was prepared on the basis of the report of a task force, which was constituted by the state government in December last year with the objective of bringing out a legislation to control and regulate bandhs.

The five-member task force was set up after Gauhati High Court asked the Assam government to work out modalities to prevent strikes, based on a PIL (34/2012) seeking action against strike organisers. The PIL is pending in the high court. The task force members visited states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar to study similar acts and submitted their report to Dispur. It found that as many as 29 organisations were resorting to unconstitutional strike calls in Assam.

“The practice of calling such strikes is found by us to have been of extraneous origin and of ephemeral nature it needs to be stopped forthwith. This pernicious practice has no historical, legal or constitutional basis and sooner it is ended, the better for all concerned,” the draft act said.

Dispur will soon make the draft public for comments, suggestions or complaints, if any, before its approval, the sources said.