Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
The absence of more thorough-going attempts to deal with the evil is not due in any large measure to active opposition on the part of the interests likely to be affected. Such opposition bulks small against the mass of public opinion in India, which is believed to be generally in favour of vigorous action. A valuable indication of the trend of more expert opinion is the stress laid by some of the reports of the Provincial Banking Enquiry Committees on legislative remedies. So far as the comparative inaction is not due to inertia, it appears to be based partly on reluctance to interfere with the sanctity of contract and partly on lack of faith in the efficacy of legislation. The objection based on the sanctity of contract may have been genuine in the past; to-day it is difficult to regard it as more than an excuse. To talk of sanctity in connection with the normal contracts made between a money-lender and an illiterate industrial worker is a grave misuse of a good word. The contract, in most; cases, is unequal and unfair from the start. It is easy for a man to contract away his labour for years in a moment of thoughtlessness or at the call of some extravagant social demand. More serious consideration must be given to the view, held by a number of persons of experience, that legislation can achieve little or nothing. This view is not based on the belief that legislation in this sphere would be in advance of public opinion: as we have said, opinion generally is well in advance of the existing law. The difficulty present to the minds of many of those who have considered the question is that of devising provisions which do not lend themselves to evasion by the money-lender. Here the question is obviously one of degree. On the one hand, legislation which cannot be enforced is not merely useless but harmful; it tends to impair the respect for law and to weaken public morality. On the other hand, there is no law which cannot sometimes be evaded with impunity. The Bengal Banking Enquiry Committee rightly say: " The principal objection against promulgation of the measures we have proposed above is that they are liable to be evaded in various ways. But the fact that the provisions of a law are capable of being evaded by fraudulent means should not deter the legislature from enacting a just and necessary measure for the protection of the simple and the ignorant. The mere existence of the measure in the Statute Book would tend to educate and strengthen public opinion and make the law abiding and less adventurous among the moneylenders averse to making any attempt at evasion." In our view the evils associated with the practice are so serious that the possibility of even a substantial amount of evasion should not deter the legislature from enacting measures which would strengthen to an appreciable extent the forces operating in favour of the freedom of the worker. It is clear that such measures can be devised, and we proceed to discuss some steps in this direction which appear desirable.