ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Notifying Farming as an Essential Service

An Authoritarian Manoeuvre

The Government of India is considering a proposal to notify farming as an essential service. This is ostensibly to bring drought relief to farmers suffering from a weak monsoon - a laudable goal indeed. However, if farming is deemed an "essential service", farmers and farm workers could lose many of their political and civic rights because the government can then invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act to ban strikes by agricultural workers, leaving them without collective bargaining power.

Union Minister of Power Veerappa Moily recently stated that central government is considering designating farming as an essential service to bring drought relief to farmers suffering from a weak monsoon (Anand and Thufail 2012). On the surface, such a step may be advantageous – at the least it would guarantee electricity to support irrigation. However, in reality this could create major human rights problems.

An essential service designation invokes the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA),1 which vastly restricts the freedom of association and speech. It also implies the National Security Act (NSA), which permits the executive to detain, without any charge, any person perceived at risk for prejudicing the maintenance of essential services. While the goal of insulating farms from power loss and drought is indeed laudable, deeming farming as an essential service could cost farmers and farm workers their rights.

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