Rosy Sequeira TNN
The state government on Thursday told the Bombay HighCourtthatitis exploring the possibility of applying the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act against chemists who are on strike. However, chemists claimed they were merely closing their shops early and were not on strike.
A division bench of Chief JusticeMohit Shah andJustice Anoop Mohta was hearing an application by advocate Datta Mane to revive his earlier PIL seeking prosecution of members of the Maharashtra State Chemists & Druggists Association, to restrain them from going on strike and find a permanent solution to the issue. Advocate SnehalRatnakar submitted on Mane’s behalf that greathardship willbecausedto peopleduetothestrike.
However, the association’s advocate told the bench it was not a strike but an individual decision taken by some chemists to keep their shops open from 10am to 6pm. He said it was prompted by visits at odd hours, like 3am, by Food and Drugs Administration officials asking about the presence of pharmacists. “If a pharmacist is not presentor hassteppedout
to answer nature’s call, they serve a stop-sell notice,’’ hesaid, adding there was a shortage of pharmacists in the state. He said there were about 70,000 chemist shops in the state but only 55,000 pharmacists, adding many pharmacists take up other jobs. He said while chemists are ready to keep their shops open beyond 6pm, the government must not insist on the presenceof pharmacists.
However, government pleader S S Shinde said the action being taken was statutory and chemists were acting contrary to the undertaking given when applying for licences, which stated they will keep their shops open for at least 12 hours. “It is not a flimsy
ground, we have consistently found that qualified pharmacists are not available,’’ he added. The association’s advocate saidsincetheHC’sOctober 2012 order,the governmentdid nothing and not a single meeting washeldon theissue.
Shinde argued chemists have gone on strike in retaliation againstthe action initiated by the FDA. “We are exploring the possibility of taking action under the Essential Services Act. The commissioner has power to prohibit a strike,’’ said Shinde.
The judges asked the government to show the provision in lawunder which it can insist chemists keep their shops open. The judges also observed that the government must understand the difficultiesof chemists. “Try to understand their difficulty also. Have at least one meeting with them,” said Justice Shah.Thejudgesdirected the government to file a reply and produce a copy of the chemists’ undertaking atthehearing on March 8.
What is Mesma
The Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act came into effect in Maharashtra in July 2012. It is applicable to providers of essential services to the public at large. An offence under the Act is cognisable and punishable with imprisonment up to 1 year. The Act empowers police to arrest offenders without a warrant