When the fight is between a lion and a lamb, the lamb has to be protected, the Bombay High Court said today while directing the striking workers of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) to resume duty by April 22, and also asked the corporation to not take any action against these employees.

Thousands of MSRTC workers have been on strike since November 2021 demanding that they be treated on par with the state government employees and that the cash-strapped transport corporation be merged with the government.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M S Karnik had on Wednesday said that it would give the workers time till April 15 to resume duty. But today, it extended the time for another week.

"We will keep our constitutional ideals in mind that when it is a fight between the lion and the lamb, the lamb has to be protected," Chief Justice Datta said.

"We are extending the date till April 22. The workers should not repeat the offences in future. The Court is also striving to arrive at a situation where there are no further deaths either by suicide or natural causes just because someone has lost their livelihood. We don't want that. We want all the employees to return to work", the Court said.

By the extended date, those workers who resume duty remain protected, but those who don't, do so at their own risk and peril, the Court said.

MSRTC's Counsel Senior Advocate Aspi Chinoy told the High Court today that the corporation would take back all the striking employees and would not initiate any action against them except a warning.

The MSRTC will also reinstate those workers against whom FIR was filed for resorting to violence and destruction of property during the strike, Chinoy said.

The Maharashtra government had earlier this week told the court that it has accepted the report submitted by a three-member committee by which the demands for merger of the MSRTC with the state government and for the corporation employees to be treated as state government employees have not been accepted.

The government would, however, provide financial assistance to the MSRTC for a period of four years.

The Bench was hearing a petition filed by the MSRTC seeking contempt action to be initiated against the striking workers for not resuming duty despite Court's orders.

With PTI inputs