Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
(i) Tea Plantations
The garden labour in Assam falls into two categories—settled labour which lives on the gardens and basti labour which lives in adjacent villages and works irregularly or in particular seasons only. Housing is invariably provided for settled labour, which forms about 80% of the total labour force. Usually the employers themselves arrange for the building of houses, but some of them permit the labourers to put up their own houses, providing them with the necessary material and paying them wages for the time spent in construction. The houses are either built an a line each house having a small compound or two houses having a common compound, or are clustered about as in a village. On some gardens, both these arrangements are found. There is an appreciable number of back-to-back barrack lines of 10 to 12 rooms in Assam though this system is given up in new constructions.
The types of houses in Assam tea gardens may be described under three broad heads, katcha, semi-pucca and pucca. The katcha houses are made of split bamboo (ekra) and plaster walls, thatch roof and mud floors. The semi-pucca houses have brick plinth and brick walls for a few feet, the upper walls being of split bamboo and plaster. The frame work is of metal or timber and the roof is of thatch or corrugated iron sheets. The pucca houses are built in brick masonry over brick or cement plinth and have metal frames and corrugated iron roofs. Nearly 90 per cent of the houses in the Assam tea gardens are katcha. The average size of
a house is 15' x 12' Kutcha houses generally have no windows or verandahs. But as the ekra walls are not properly plastered and as they do not join up with the roofs, they provide sufficient ventilation. On the other hand, they afford poor protection against cold in winter. The pucca houses have a window arid many have besides ridge-roof ventilation. Verandahs are not common. The houses are provided free of rent and repairs are generally done by the labourer themselves with material supplied by the planters once in two; or three years Each family gets a separate house, 6 persons including children being looked upon as the maximum.
The Royal Commission recommended the establishment of Boards of Health and Welfare who should lay down standard minimum requirements of housing and have the power to condemn houses unfit for habitation. It is regrettable to note that this recommendation has not yet been implemented. No effect has also been given to another recommendation about providing for a few standard lamps in housing areas.
The most usual source of Water supply is open surface wells which the British Medical Association, Assam, has described as a most highly polluted arid dangerous Source of supply. Another objectionable source of water supply is from tanks and rivers. Tube-wells have been installed in several gardens but their progress was arrested by the non-availability of materials in war-time.
Kutcha drains are in evidence in most of the places. The Assam Valley Branch of the Indian Tea Association has recommended saucer shaped pucca drains between houses as the sides do not easily fall in or get stamped in.
Nearly 90 per cent. of the gardens have no latrines for the labourers, in spite of the high incidence of hookworm among them and their consequent debility. In the remaining 10 per cent. cases, the number of latrines is, neither adequate nor are they properly kept with the result that workers are forced to resort to the adjoining open spaces. Very few bathing and washing places have beep provided in spite of the Royal Commission's suggestions for a serious attempt in this direction.
Access to workers' quarters is prohibited to all except the workers' relatives and friends. This means that planters; can refuse anybody the right of entering the gardens in exercise of their right of private property. The following observations of the Royal Commission on Labour we well worth quoting in this connection "We do not regard as satisfactory the existing position where the workers are largely isolated from outside influence and any member of the public may be effectively prevented from approaching the workers' lines except with. the manager's permission. On principle it is objectionable that considerable areas included within the garden grants in which large numbers of workers are settled, can be entirely closed to any one who may be interested in their welfare. We have considered the point submitted to us namely, the danger of interested people attempting to make use of the illiterate and ignorant labour force on the tea gardens for purposes unconnected with labour, but this is a risk to which every industry, in India is exposed, and we think it better to-face it than to continue a policy which inevitably gives rise to suspicion and is liable to be abused.
We were informed that in the Surma Valley there are recognised public rights of way to all gardens lines, and in the Dooars where the labour force is similar in composition to that of Assam, the garden lease usually requires the planter to maintain roads from North to South and East to West which shall be open to the public. It is in the Assam Valley that the right of access is most needed and we recommend that steps should be taken to secure public contact with workers' dwellings on all plantations".1 This recommendation has not been implemented by the Assam Government on the ground that there was no justification for enforcing indiscriminate public rights of way over private estates. As the workers are illiterate, it is very difficult for them to form associations and have their legitimate grievances redressed unless and until they are outsiders. It is thus necessary to throw open to the public by legislation all roads in gardens which lead to workers' lines. Unless and until this is done, there cannot be much hope of the amelioration of the conditions of workers.
In Bengal, housing is provided by all estates to the settled or resident labour. In the Dooars, the houses are built in barrack lines scattered over the gardens, each house usually having its own separate compound. In many cases the houses are built in rows one near the other with about 20 feet space between two rows. The houses are made with bamboo or iron frame, have bamboo matting plastered with mud for walls and have thatched roofs. In many cases, the walk are made of pieces of plywood sheets from discarded tea chests or rusty tin sheets nailed haphazardly to the bamboo frame. The average size of a house is 225 sq. ft. The length varies from 14' to 26' and the breadth from 11' to 14'. One house is given to each labour and no rent is charged. The houses have usually a plinth of 3" to 16". The roofs are low and the light is insufficient. Windows, where provided, are usually kept closed with a view either to shut out the cold winds or evil spirits or both. The houses in the Terai are similar to those in the Dooars except that they have practically no plinth. In Darjeeling, the pre-war constructions are often wooden plank walls and corrugated iron sheet roofs. Since 1939, however houses are made of bamboo and mud walls with thatched roofs as wooden planks and iron sheets have become very scarce. There is a complete absence of proper drainage in all the lines in the gardens. The incidence of Pthysis is high in these gardens as a result of dark, dingy and ill ventilated quarters, Kutcha and pucca wells form the source of water-supply in the Dooars and the Terai. In Darjeeling, no special arrangements have been made for supplying water to the workers who get it from small springs running through the gardens. These go dry in summer and cause untold hardships to the labourers. The majority of the gardens have no latrines for their labour.
C. The Punjab and United Provinces-
In the Kangra Valley, nearly 10 per cent. of the workers live in quarters provided by the planters. The houses are mostly kutcha one-room tenements with mud or brick walls and corrugated iron and slat roofs. The rooms are 14' X 14' and have no windows. On an average, 4 to 5 workers live in every room. In Dehra Dun, nearly 50 per cent. of the workers live on the gardens in houses provided by the planters. These houses are also kutcha with mud walls and thatched roofs. The rooms are
*F.N. Report p. 378.
generally 12'Xl2' or 12'x10'. A few estates in Almora have provided for their labour pucca double-storeyed barracks with a kitchen room attached to each at the backside. In all these areas, water for drinking and washing is obtained from spring or stream on the estate. Latrines are nowhere provided.
D. South India—
In South India, free! housing is provided for all workers other than casual and local labour. The usual accommodation consists of a room 12'X 10' or 10'X 10' in a block comprising 5 to 10 rooms. In most of the recently built lines in the important tea districts, a kitchen 12'x6' is also provided for every room. The older types of houses are built with broken rubble and mortar and have corrugated iron or tiled roofs. The new types of houses are built in concrete or broken rubble with cement pointing and sometimes in concrete bricks. The plinths are from 12 to 18 inches high and many lines have a concrete apron paving, 7 feet wide, in front which slopes from the base of the plinth to a pucca concrete drain. There are drains also at the back of the houses. Chimneys are provided in the kitchen in new lines while smoke vents on the ridges of the roofs or cowl tiles provide ventilation in older ones. The new types of houses have roofs of tiles or asbestos sheets. Many estates have also fixed gutterings to the eves to lead out rain water. On either side of the line there are one or two pucca bathrooms separately for males and females. A few houses seen in the Anamallais and the Wynaad are exceptionally good providing a semi-enclosed verandah 12'X5', a living room 10'x12' and kitchen 12' x 7' and a separate bathroom, enclosed by pucca walls but without . roof for every quarter. Many estates provide water to the lines through pipes and taps and there is usually one tap for every line. Bore-hole latrines have been provided in nearly all estates, generally two for every line but sometimes even one for every room in the line. A few estates .have provided septic tank latrines for their labour. Although most of the recently built houses have kitchens, there is not even a single instance in -the South Indian tea gardens where both the living room and the kitchen are allotted to the same family. The general practice on the other hand is to house one family, consisting of husband, wife and children, in the kitchen and to 'accommodate two such families in the living room. Cases have also come- to notice where a portion of the front verandah has been enclosed with a view to accommodating another family. Often the living room is divided by improvised partitions with a view to obtaining some privacy for the different families living therein. Sometimes up to 14 persons live in a room 10ft x 12ft. In many of the Indian-owned estates in Central Travancore and Nilgiries, housing leaves much to be desired. In some estates back-to-back lines with low walls of mud and rooms of 8ft.x10ft. without windows are used to accommodate the workers. The floor is often uneven with pits and holes In some cases walls are of bamboo matting. Water is obtained from springs and latrines are not provided.
(ii) Coffee Plantations
In Coffee estates housing conditions are generally bad. In the Shevaroys, Coorg and Mysore, the labourers are housed worse than cattle back-to-back barracks built 40 to 50 years ago house the workers. The rooms are 10 ft. x 10 ft. or 10 ft.x 8 ft. with no windows or entrance for light and air. The doors are low and narrow. There are no verandahs. The houses stand on a rickety foundation.
The walls are of mud and are full of holes and crevices which proclaim that they have no seen repairs for years. In the rains, dampness makes the walls sodden and there is danger to life and limb, as there is no knowing when the whole structure would give way, burying the inmates under the debris. However, in Coorg, the Consolidated Coffee Estates have launched a new building programme for housing their workers and a few blocks of houses of two quarters each have been built on many of their estates. The houses consist of a verandah, a living room and a kitchen, are built of brick and mortar and have tiled roofs. The living room has an extension to the side of the verandah 6ft. X 6ft., which can be screened off and formed into an additional room. The living room is 12ft. X 10ft. and the kitchen 12ft. X 6ft. Two doors and two windows are provided for the living room, and a door and a window for the kitchen. There are chimneys to the kitchen to let out smoke. Bath rooms are not provided. Even piped water supply is rarely found on the coffee estates and workers have to depend on wells arid springs. Nor are latrines generally seen on these estates. .
(iii) Rubber Plantations
On rubber estates, the quarters are generally built in barracks. In Travancore, most of the larger estates provide an enclosed common verandah at the back which is utilised for cooking purposes. In Malabar, separate cooking places are not generally provided. Rubber estates being mostly in the plains arid not subject to severe monsoon, the houses are usually provided with large windows. Most of the workers on rubber estates live single and 6 to 8 persons occupy one room 12ft. x 10ft. or 10ft. X 10ft. A few back-to-back barracks without proper ventilation were also noticed4. On the Yendayar estate in Mundakayam, the houses for the workers were good. The houses were built in blocks of two quarters each quarter having a front verandah and a kitchen and a bathroom. The living room was 12ft. x 12ft. or 12ft. x 10ft. the kitchen 7ft. x 5ft; and the bathroom 7ft X 5ft. A sink 2ft. X 2ft. with an outlet for wafer is provided in the kitchen. Water taps and latrines are provided. In smaller estates, mostly Indian-owned, employing from 10 to 15 workers, the lines are often thatched sheds with walls of grass. No separate kitchen is provided and sometimes repairs of the house are the responsibility of the workers themselves who are mostly local people. But for the one estate mentioned above, no estate has provided latrines for the use of the workers. Water supply is generally from open wells and streams and rivers.