Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
Finally, after various legislative efforts Government took the step of prohibiting all recruiting except by garden sardars, and also made it illegal for anyone else to assist, induce, or even persuade a recruit to go to Assam. A garden sardar is a man who has actually worked and is employed on a tea garden, and the operations of garden sardars are fenced round with numerous regulations. Local Governments were also empowered to prohibit recruiting absolutely in specified areas and these powers were used by more than one local Government. To this day a large part of the United Provinces is closed to all recruiting for Assam. Moreover, a body known as the Assam Labour Board was set up with a view to the better control of recruiting. This body, which is financed almost entirely by cesses on tea planters, is composed of representatives of the tea industry with an official chairman, and its duties involve the supervision of the machinery regulating recruitment in and emigration from the recruiting provinces. It has no responsibility for labour after it has arrived in Assam. These changes, together with the willing co-operation of the industry, secured their immediate object with the result that cases of serious abuse are now exceptional, though their memory remains in certain districts, and has still an effect on recruiting; but the real difficulties remained unsolved. The Government of India had always professed adherence to the principle of free recruiting as the ideal in view; but the alterations made in the law which restricted recruitment to a single method, represented a step in the opposite direction, and they were not calculated to alleviate the scarcity of labour. From this point of view, a more progressive move was the endeavour to get away from the system of indenture. In 1908, by means of a notification, the provisions relating to indentured labour contained in the Assam Labour and Emigration Act (Act VI of 1901), which controlled and still controls recruitment for Assam, were withdrawn from the Surma valley and the two lower districts of the Assam valley, and in 1915 they were withdrawn from the rest of the Assam valley. From that date, the right, of private arrest disappeared, and no penal contracts could be executed under Act VI. Unfortunately there remained on the statute book the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act, which dated from 1859 and was applicable to large parts of India. This Act made possible penal contracts of a slightly different type, and to it many planters, especially in the Assam valley, now turned. The Act was finally repealed in 1923 with effect from 1926, and there is now no Act under which a labourer in Assam can be criminally punished for breach of contract.