Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The economic and social significance of housing has been studied by American and Continental writers. In Germany enquiries devoted to the choice and location of industries brought into prominence the conception of housing as, in itself, the greatest industry of all. We, in India, are still very far behind in this respect, as housing here has, with the exception of a few enlightened employers, meant little more than a mere accumulation of bricks and mortar or bricks and mud in a more or less. symmetrical form. "Modern housing' is thus described by Catherine Bauer1:—" 'Modern Housing' let us say, has certain qualities and embodies certain methods and purposes, which distinguish it sharply from the typical residential environment of the past century. For one thing it is built for efficient use over a period of years: therefore, it is not de-singed primarily for quick profits. It is 'planned': and so it must be non-speculative. This new housing method recognizes that the integral unit for planning, the economical unit for construction and administration, and the social unit for living, is the complete neighbourhood, designed and equipped as such. A modern housing development does not, therefore, constitute mere mechanical extension of streets and agglomeration of individual, competitive dwellings. It has a beginning and an end, and some sort of visible, organic, form. One part is related to another part, and each part serves a particular, predestined use. It can never deteriorate into a slum, or a 'blighted area', or a case for expensive remedial city planning. Moreover, modern housing provides certain minimum amenities for every dwelling: cross-ventilation for one thing; sun-light quiet, and a pleasant outlook from every window, adequate privacy, space, and sanitary facilities, children's play space adjacent. And finally it will be available at a price which citizens of average income or less can afford". On such premises, how many workmen's quarters are there in India which might be termed 'modern housing' Perhaps none at all or so few that their number is like a drop in the ocean. It may even be said without the least fear of contradiction that the full economic and social significance of housing has not been appreciated in this country and "although it is not true that any social economic order which could produce good housing would be ipso facto a good system, it is certainly true that any arrangement which cannot do so is a reactionary and anti-social one".
A reference to the Census Reports shows that there has been a constant drift into cities and towns in recent decades. While old cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Ahmedabad have grown in population, small towns and even undeveloped urban areas also have come into prominence. In response to the increasing demand for houses, the individual was allowed liberty to exploit himself and the community while the State merely imposed certain limitations in respect of health and sanitation. The result is evident in the chaos, dirt and squalor of accumulated dwellings, which
FN 1 Catherine Bauer; Modern Housing p.xv.
have grown haphazardly, though a few enlightened employers and local bodies have no doubt shown some appreciation of the subject. The Indian Industrial Commission urged the importance of improving the health and housing of the industrial population. "The problem, not only on moral grounds but also for economic reasons", they wrote, "must be solved without delay, if the existing and future industries of India are to hold their own against the ever-growing competition. No industrial edifice can be permanent which is built on such unsound foundations as those afforded by Indian labour under its present conditions".
About a decade after the submission of their report by the Industrial Commission, the Royal Commission on Labour found that the situation as regards housing continued to be as bad as ever. The Commission wrote:
"In the urban and industrial areas, cramped sites, the high value of land and the necessity for the worker to live in the vicinity of his work have all tended to intensify congestion and overcrowding. In the busiest centres, the houses are built close together, eave touching eave and frequently back to back in order to make use of all the available space. Indeed, space is so valuable that, in place of streets and roads, narrow and winding lanes provide the only approach to the houses. Neglect of sanitation is often evidenced by heaps of rotting garbage, and pools of sewage, whilst the absence of latrines enhances the general pollution of air and soil. Houses, many without plinths, windows and adequate ventilation, usually consist of a single small room, the only opening being a doorway often too low to enter without stopping. In order to secure some privacy old kerosene tins and gunny bags are used to form screens which further restrict the entrance of light and air. In dwellings such as these, human beings are born, sleep and eat, live and die".2 The commission made elaborate recommendations regarding provision of better types of houses with adequate space, ventilation and light, latrines, drainage and other sanitary arrangements. They also specified the role of Government, Local Boards and Municipalities, Employers and Co-operative Societies in respect of industrial housing. Despite these recommendations, no appreciable improvement in housing in general has taken place. The employers took up the provision of houses, but most of these were neither adequate in number nor satisfactory in the matter of sanitation, structure etc. Government remained indifferent in the matter except for the enactment of the Land Acquisition Act facilitating the acquisition of land for housing purposes. The Bombay Textile Labour Inquiry Committee justifiably wrote: "Despite the attention previously bestowed on the question and the recommendations made by the Royal Commission, it has to be recorded that the last decade has witnessed no appreciable change for the better in the matter of housing in the various centres of the cotton textile industry in the province".
Going through the material before us, we cannot but come to the conclusion that the statement referred to above is no less true of the present conditions throughout the country. Very little by way of providing more and better houses for industrial labour has been done either by Government or Municipalities. Employers have no doubt made some contribution to better housing by erecting lines, tenements or small cottages in certain industrial centres. The houses erected by them differ
F.N. Report of the Indian Industrial Commission, 1919, pp. 179-180.
2 Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India, pp. 271-272. 8 Report of the Bombay Textile Labour Inquiry Committee, Vol. II, p. 268. 25—2 Lab. 56.
greatly from one another and only a small percentage of workers are, on the whole, accommodated in them. It may, however, be said that employers' tenements are all things considered, far superior to the sums which have been allowed to develop in cities. The smaller employers do not and perhaps cannot erect any dwellings for their workers. The bigger employers have given some attention to the subject but a perusal of our ad hoc survey reports in respect of different industries would show that the housing conditions in general are far from satisfactory. Most of the employers still cling to the old, discredited argument that housing conditions in industrial areas are no worse than conditions in villages wherefrom the workers are drawn. They hold that the migratory character of labour acts as a bar to the construction of good and permanent houses, little realising that bad and insanitary houses themselves drive the workers to the rural areas off and on. It is no doubt true that the housing conditions in an ordinary Indian village are very unsatisfactory, but most of them have courtyards which afford some privacy and provide a certain amount of light and air. Moreover, the large, open spaces around the villages are in themselves health-giving. "The sunshine in the daytime is nature's disinfectant which saves the agricultural population to a large extent from the ravages of sickness and disease. In the larger towns, there is neither space nor sunshine between the buildings and, in the absence of adequate arrangements for sanitation, the home of the worker is apt to become a veritable death-trap from which it is only natural that he should escape by returning whenever possible to his village"1.
If the present-day industrial worker in India is physically inefficient and unhealthy, the intolerable housing conditions are in no mean degree responsible for it. Housing and health are inter-connected and they both influence industrial efficiency. The overcrowding of people in dark, ill-ventilated quarters in industrialised cities is also an important contributory cause of infant mortality and tuberculosis. Thus, the Assistant Director of Public Health, in his Annual Health Report for New Delhi for 1934 remarks: "It behaves all concerned to notice that the incidence of tuberculosis is steadily rising...... It is evident that this menace to public health is on the increase and it would go on Increasing until living conditions in the clerks' and menials' quarters improve. A large number of these are greatly overcrowded.........." The remarks in respect of New Delhi, apply, a fortiori, to conditions in several towns in India. The Chief Medical Officer of the B. B. &. C.I. Railway also points out that tuberculosis is on the increase among railway employees and their families due to bad housing conditions, overcrowding and unhygienic habits. The unhealthy and unattractive housing conditions force the workers to leave their families in the villages and stay alone in the cities. This leads to a great disparity in the ratio between the two sexes and the consequent evils of promiscuity, prostitution, and venereal disease, spreading first in the cities and later in the villages where the workers migrate. Overcrowded tenements have a cramping effect upon the physical and mental "development of workers and their families. They do not make proper provision for the separation of the sexes which according to accepted civilised standards, is essential 10 decency. No attempt at raising the standard of living of the industrial worker can be successful without an early solution of the housing problem. It may be mentioned here that, when a factory is started in an urban area, the
F.N. Government of India's Memorandum to the Royal Commission on Labour. (See Evidence, Part I, p. 271).
usual tendency on the part of employer is to leave the unskilled employees to their own resources as regards housing accommodation, while an attempt is made to house only the semi-skilled workers if there is any difficulty in their case. If, on the other hand, an employer establishes his concern in a rural or semi-urban area, he takes some care to see that his workers are housed, of course with the exception of such men as can afford to come every day from the neighbouring villages.