Kochi: In a significant development, the High Court on Tuesday ruled that the Kerala Essential Services Maintenance Act (KESMA) – which contains severe strictures – could be invoked against officers of the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) who are on a strike.
In its order, a division bench of the High Court comprising Justices C S Dias and Basant Balaji observed that as electricity distribution is an essential service, if power gets disrupted following the refusal of employees to work, the government could invoke KESMA and ban the strike.
Moreover, the management of the KSEB could take action against the officers for improper conduct, said the court. Officers of the KSEB are covered by the service rules for state government employees, it pointed out.
Under KESMA, striking employees could be fined and imprisoned.
The court, citing its earlier order in the 'Balagopal case', also said that any strike by state government employees was illegal. Even though action could be taken against the agitators, the court directed the authorities to initiate disciplinary measures only after hearing the version of the employees.
The court issued the directive while considering two petitions. One was filed by Arun Jose of Vythiri, who urged the court to declare the strike of the KSEB Officers' Association as illegal. The other plea, by K V Jayachandran Nair from Thiruvananthapuram, sought action against Association leader M G Suresh Kumar for announcing that the strike would continue.
Minister not in favour of KESMA
At the same time, Electricity Minister K Krishnankutty said that KESMA will not be invoked against the striking officers of KSEB. "We had once opposed the Emergency. So, severe measures such as KESMA will not be resorted to," he said.
"The issues in KSEB will be settled through discussions," the Minister added.
More talks mooted
Meanwhile, another round of ministerial-level talks are planned to end the confrontation between the Officers' Association and B Ashok, Chairman of KSEB.
Earlier, the minister had set a deadline of one week for both parties to end the dispute.
In a related development, the Officers' Association postponed to another day, the release of a handbook explaining the actual situation in the KSEB. According to Association office-bearers, the handbook is not yet ready. However, it is learnt that the real reason for the delay in the release was to prevent aggravating the situation.