Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
Before dealing with the actual subjects on which my views diverge from those of my colleagues, I feel that a word of explanation is necessary in order that my personal position may be made quite clear. Basically there is very little difference of opinion between us. I desire to see the standard of living not only of the industrial but also of the general population in India raised far above the present unsatisfactory level: I desire to see hours of work reduced and those hours occupied more efficiently and intensively: I desire to see a material improvement in health conditions, whether in the factory or in the home. It can fairly be said, therefore, that the divergence of our views does not lie so much in the objects to be attained as in the methods by which they should be achieved and the speed with which these goals should be reached. My European colleagues are naturally influenced by what has taken place in the West and have endeavoured to adopt a procedure tending toward Western ideals: on the other hand my Indian colleagues, perhaps not unnaturally, consider that, if the machinery of the West is introduced in the East, the consequences will be the same in both Hemispheres. In my opinion the long period of experiment and development out of which the present industrial system in the Western Hemisphere has gradually evolved has received insufficient emphasis. Education both of capital and labour and of public opinion is a slow and gradual process and the assumption that remedies which are the result of a long evolutionary period in the West can .be fitted ready-made to India is not justifiable.
Further my colleagues in their desire for statutory reforms have not in my opinion sufficiently stressed the useful part played in this country by the voluntary efforts of employers in the past: they have only resorted to the encouragement of such endeavours in the future where statutory recommendations appear impossible of achievement. I on my side consider that attempts to deal with these economic subjects should be carried out voluntarily as far as possible, and that statutory aid should only be invoked where it is absolutely necessary. India is essentially a poor country and any attempt to bring her labour legislation up to the same level as in Western countries, in effect as well as in intention, can only be achieved by the institution of a large and expensive machinery for inspection which will absorb more revenue than she will be able to afford for many years to come. That such an inspectorate will be necessary if the suggestions of the Commission are carried out is admitted on pages 213-14:—
" We here refer to matters such as the slow growth of the spirit of compliance with the industrial law among the smaller and less well organised employers, the ignorance and illiteracy of the workers, the possibility of collusion and the large areas to be covered in the case of scattered industries—all of which tend to make a high annual percentage of inspection essential if enforcement is to be effective ".
The steady growth, side by side, of Indian industry and rural population raises a question which merits some attention: there is an uncollated but nevertheless considerable volume of evidence which tends to show that the press of population on the land is continually increasing. In my view every facility should be given to enable the surplus population to migrate with ease and settle down in the districts where labour is required for industrial purposes.
There is a school of thought among employers which views with sympathy the improvement of labour conditions to whatever point is considered desirable by those interested in labour reform, provided that the extra cost can be covered by the institution of bounties or an increase in protective duties. I am not in agreement with the above view in principle. I appreciate that the increasing pressure on land makes it not only desirable but necessary that industry in India should become sufficiently prosperous to absorb the growing percentage of those born on the land whom the land cannot support; even the most ardent champion of rural industries must uphold any measures of protection necessary to place Indian industry in a position to compete successfully with foreign competition and maintain a steady development: nor can anyone cavil at a policy whereby the standard of living of the industrial worker is kept at a higher level than in agricultural districts. But any policy which raises the cost of the article to the consumer in order that the industrial worker may achieve a standard of living disproportionately greater than that of his agricultural brother, is justifiably open to criticism since it would involve the taxation of approximately 340 million people for the benefit of about two million industrial workers.
Some of the recommendations in the Report with which I am in sympathy are put forward in rather stronger terms than I can subscribe to; nor must I be held to have accepted without reservation all the arguments developed in the Report in favour of recommendations with which I am in agreement. It will be noticed that in Chapter XX my colleagues recommend that access should he available to the workers' lines in the plantations of Assam and that Government should take the necessary action to achieve this end: while I agree in principle that such access should be established, this matter has been and is receiving the attention of the Assam Government. I can visualise possible difficulties to Government in times of political turmoil if such access is uncontrolled in distant rural areas and would prefer to leave the question to the sympathetic consideration of the Government, concerned rather than make a strong and definite recommendation.
It will further be noticed that the whole Report is studded with aspirations to the effect that the recommendations will benefit the employer as well as labour. In my opinion only an undue feeling of optimism on the part of my colleagues can justify this view in every case: I am by no means so certain that industry generally will share it. No attempt has been made nor would it be possible to give an estimate of what would be the cost of the various recommendations which my colleagues desire to lay on industry and the community at large, but that this cost would be no small item there can be no question.
Nor am I convinced that the end we all have in view may not be achieved by methods other than those used in the West. A study of the Guild System in Ahmedabad will show how, with no legislative provisions but purely by the harnessing of social forces, the most stringent restrictive regulations were evolved in the past and there may yet be other methods which have not even been thought of by this Commission.
The ground we have had to cover has been vast, the time restricted, the facts available exiguous and sometimes inconclusive, if not positively inaccurate. Further detailed enquiries would absorb more time and entail greater delay but it is surely better to proceed cautiously at the beginning than to build on insecure foundations and subsequently patch up mistakes that may have been made.
I should like this Report of ours to be used as a general starting point to be followed by a series of ad hoc enquiries on the widely differing subjects with which we have dealt, such enquiries to be instituted after more facts and accurate data have been collected. In the meantime, except where our recommendations are based on fully established facts, statutory measures should be carried out on the most general lines.