Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The early legislative measures taken in connection with the recruitment of labour from distant places to the Assam tea gardens were more protective of planters than of labour. The first protective legislation was the Assam Labour Emigration Act, 1901. Right of arrest by planters, recruitment by contractors and the indenture system were gradually abolished by amending the Act in 1908 and 1915 but the last vestige of penal contract disappeared from the Indian. Statute-book only in 1931. The Act of 1901 was repealed by the Tea Districts Emigrant Labour Act, 1932, which was passed as a result of the Royal Commission's recommendations. This Act now regulates recruitment to the Assam Tea gardens. The main objects of the Act are to control recruitment and forwarding of assisted emigrants to the gardens and to grant a greater measure of freedom in the system of recruitment than had hitherto been enjoyed by the industry. It also confers on the assisted emigrants the right of repatriation at the cost of the gardens after three years' service. Thus the Act, strictly speaking, is not a piece of labour legislation but is really an emigration legislation., It applies only to assisted emigrant labourers who go to the gardens for work. Of nearly 12 lakhs of persons living in the tea gardens in Assam, the great majority are not covered by the provisions of the Act.
No child, i.e., a person under 16 years of age, can be recruited to work on a tea garden unless it is accompanied by a parent or other relative. A married woman living with her husband can only be assisted to emigrate with his consent. The forwarding of assisted emigrants is alone subject to control in areas where a notification under Section 16 has been issued. Such areas which are called 'controlled emigration areas' become 'restricted recruitment areas' when a notification under Section 26 is issued and then the methods and personnel employed in recruiting are controlled almost all the recruiting areas have been declared to be controlled emigration areas but no such areas has been so far declared as a restricted recruitment' areas.
The working of the Act is supervised by the Controller of Emigrant Labour who is an employee of the Government of India. His principal duties are to enforce the provisions relating to repatriation from Assam and to supervise the forwarding routes and recruiting. He has no control over conditions of labour and life in the tea gardens in Assam. The provisions of the Act and of the rules there under are properly observed but a few cases of evasion occasionally take place. Cases of illegal and fraudulent recruitment are mostly reported by the local forwarding agents to the authorities exercising the powers of the Controller. Such cases ranged from 8 to 22 in the six years from 1939 to 1944. . Whatever may have been the conditions in the early days, the emigrants are now generally aware of their rights under the Act—particularly the right to repatriation. An emigrant labourer can, under Section 14 of the Act, by agreement with his employer postpone his exercise of the right of repatriation or may waive it conditionally or unconditionally but no such agreement shall be valid unless it is in writing and in the prescribed form and has been made not more than one month before the right of repatriation arises. The number of persons who postponed their rights of repatriation by executing agreements were 9, 224 in 1939, 12, 661 in 1940, 14, 937 in 1941, 8, 008 in 1942, 9, 713 in 1943 and 7, 842 in 1944. The Government of India have not yet prescribed the authority before whom the agreement is to' be signed,, as contemplated by the proviso to section 14 (i) of the Act. In the absence of such a prescribed authority, the agreement is made before the manager and it is
likely that at least some of the labourers may be induced to sign it without, knowing its full implication. Where, however, a right to repatriation arises in respect of a widow, an agreement by the widow has to be ratified, as required by Rule 66 (i) of the Government of India Rules, by the District Magistrate or other Magistrate appointed by him in this behalf. Some of the managers have been appointed as Honorary Magistrates for this purpose and it is not unlikely that some of them ratify the agreement as a matter of routine.
If a repatriated labourer returns within' the next two years he is not eligible for repatriation. This restriction of the right of repatriation seems unnecessary. In fact, recently when difficulties were experienced in recruitment, the employers themselves volunteered to extend the right of repatriation to such labourers also as had worked in the tea estates before. There have been-occasionally cases of labourers who have died en route to Assam. The families of such labourers do not have right of repatriation as this right arises only after, the labourer takes employment in. a tea estate, vide Section 9 of the Act. While the Act regulates the routes, conditions of travel and arrangements for food of labourers proceeding to tea estates, no such provisions exist for repatriated labourers. It would seem that while every care is taken to see that the recruited labourer reaches the estate safely, no interest is taken at all in seeing whether he returns home safely after his work in the tea estates or not. There is no provision in the Act for regulating accommodation, sanitation, water supply, medical treatment, wages, hours of work, educational facilities, rest and recreation and other welfare arrangements for labourers employed in the tea estates. While all Local Forwarding Agencies are required to maintain a register showing the number of persons recruited, accommodated and forwarded in "a day, no such register is required to be maintained by the forwarding depots en route to Assam. It is therefore, difficult to know whether, in any of these forwarding depots, persons have been accommodated in excess of the provision made. It may sometimes happen that labourers from the neighbouring districts of Bengal are taken to tea estates in Assam and entertained as local labourers, even though Bengal is a recruiting area and cess is payable on labourers from Bengal taken to tea estates in Assam. At present, a manager is required to maintain a register only in respect of labourers covered by the Act. If a register is maintained to show also the details of the non-emigrant labourers employed in tea estates, it will be possible to find out whether any labourer who should have been treated as an emigrant labourer has been treated as a non-emigrant or not.
The Jalpaiguri Labour Act, 1912, provides merely for the keeping of registers and the submission of returns about health, sickness and mortality by employers of labour in Jalpaiguri district Under this Act, an annual report is, submitted by, the, Civil Surgeon, Jalpaiguri, on matters relating to sickness and medical, services .amongst the labourers in the Dooars.
Plantations in India are thus practically immune .from any legislative control as far as regulation of labour conditions in them is concerned. The only legislative measure in the whole of India for the direct control of labour conditions on plantations, is taken by the State of Cochin by framing rules for conserving the health and protecting the interests of labourers employed cat plantations in the State. The rules came into force on the 1st May 1937, and apply to estates which have at least ten acres under plantation crop or employ at least 20 labourers on any one day in the year. They prohibit the employment of children under 10 and of women and children between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. They, provide, for a standard housing accommodation, free medical
aid and anti-malarial measures. They also provide for the inspection of the estates, at least once a year by the Director of Public Health and the District Magistrate or their deputies. The rules appear to be properly enforced. The standard of minimum housing requirements required by rule 18 to be drawn up within two years has not, however, yet been drawn up.