What is ESMA?

The Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) was enacted in 1968, to maintain “certain essential services (which if obstructed would) affect the normal life of the community”.

The Essential Services Maintenance Act empowers the government to control production, distribution and supply of certain essential commodities.

What are the aims of ESMA?

The Act aims to achieve several objectives like,

  • Maintaining or increasing supplies of essential commodities
  • Utilize the supply for equitable distribution and
  • Fair price availability of essential commodities.
  • The act is also works against unethical trade practices like hoarding and black-marketing.

In general, the government can invoke the Act to prohibit employees from refusing to work (strike) which can result in disruption of essential services. The government can also force them to work to bring balance in the essential supplies.

Who has the power under ESMA?

The Essential Services Maintenance Act is enacted under List III of concurrent list and entry no 33 in particular.

Since The ESMA is concurrent legislation, Both State and Parliament have power under the legislation.

Every state maintains their own ESMA list in general.

Entry 33 of Concurrent List – “Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply, and distribution of,

a) the products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest and imported goods of the same kind as such products;

b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils;

c) cattle fodder, including oilcake and other concentrates;

d) raw cotton, whether ginned or unpinned, and cotton seed; and

e) raw jute.


What are considered as essential services?

Parliament and State governments has the power to decide any commodity as a “essential commodity”, If maintenance of supplies and services of commodities is necessary for sustaining life.

Which services fall under this category?

In general, there are certain services that fall under the term ‘Essential Services’. They are:

  • Services related to the public conservancy, sanitation, water supply, hospitals, or related with the defense of the country.
  • Any establishment dealing with production, supply or distribution of petroleum, coal, power, steel, and fertilizers and also any service in connection with banking can also falls under essential services.
  • Communication and transport services can be subjected to ESMA.
  • Any government undertaking related to the purchase and distribution of food grains is also subject to the ESMA.
  • The employees can’t even refuse to work overtime if their work is considered necessary for the maintenance of any of the essential services.

What actions will be taken if workers involved in strikes?

Once ESMA is invoked, strike becomes illegal. So, anyone who involves in the strike is subject to legal actions prescribed under the ESMA.

  • Any police officer who is empowered to arrest the striking persons can arrestthe persons without a warrant.
  • Persons participating in or instigating the strike may be punished with imprisonment extend to one year or fine or both.]
  • If the employees of government involvedin a strike, then the Government may take disciplinary action on the employee and can even suspend the person.


This article explains the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and its importance. The article also explains various terms associated with ESMA

Source (MEA website, The Mint, TOI)

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