Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
The Madras Planters' Act of 1903 introduced the penal contract as a protection for the planter against the loss of the advances made to his workers. This Act remained after the repeal of the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act and was not finally repealed till January 1929. The evidence we received shows unmistakably that the abolition of the penal contract, in Madras has not added to the planters' difficulties; if anything, it has promoted a more regular flow of labour to the plantations. We were informed that the planter in some cases had recourse to the civil law for the recovery of the advance, but the civil agreements which have replaced the penal contracts are usually made with the supplier of labour, namely, the kangani or the maistry and not with the labourer. In Coorg, the demand for a penal contract was made not only by the planter but also by the ordinary landholder, who also relied on outside labour for the cultivation of his land. This was secured by the application to the province of the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act. With the repeal of this Act the planter and the local landholder pressed for the retention of the penal contract, which was then legal in the Madras Presidency under the Madras Planters' Act. As a result, the local council passed a bill in 1926, known as the Coorg Labour Act, based oh the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act, but at the instance of the Government of India the operation of the measure was limited to five years to give the planter time to effect the necessary adjustments demanded by changing conditions. During the years 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929, 13, 415 cases were* instituted under the Act, 2, 946 persons were ordered to work out the contract or to repay the advance, while 39 persons were sentenced to imprisonment. At the end of 1929 the number of cases pending was 1, 944. We were informed that, prior to the coming into force of this Act, breach of contract cases (which were then governed by the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act) were much fewer. In a large number of cases, the contract of employment under the Coorg Labour Act is signed outside the province before officials nominated by, but not under the control of, the Chief Commissioner of Coorg. The striking feature in the working of this Act is that inmost cases the worker is not in the province when the case is instituted against him, and the warrant has, therefore, to be executed by the police of the district in which he resides. In Assam, as we show later, the penal contract was used to keep the labourer on the garden .after he had arrived there, but in Coorg it has been used to ensure that he actually comes to the estate which has advanced him money. The Act will expire on 1st April 1931, and we trust that with it will disappear from India the last vestige of the penal contract. The representatives of the Coorg Planters' Association stated to us that they anticipated no difficulty from its abolition, but we were informed that in some quarters an effort is being made to press for its continuance. From the experience of the working of the penal contract in this province and its effects in other areas in the past, we have no hesitation in recommending that no further legislation of this type should be countenanced.