HC Deb 04 August 1890 vol 347 cc1731-2

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been drawn to the difference in the mortality between coolies employed on the tea plantations of Assam, under the Act of 1882, and those not under the Act, and to the fact that the average mortality of the coolies under the Act is double that of those not under it; whether he is aware that the non-Act labourers are free agents, who take service on healthy plantations, while Act labourers are imported from a distance under long contracts, and are often placed on unhealthy plantations, and that Act labourers are often engaged by contractors for unhealthy places, in entire ignorance of the conditions of plantation life; whether he has observed that the death rate on some of those unhealthy plantations ranges from 200 to 270 per 1,000, or eight times the average mortality of Assam; that on two plantations in 1884 more than half the coolies died; that many of the coolies desert and perish in the jungle; and that many others come back from the tea gardens crippled for life, and have to depend on charity; and whether the Government of India, in the investigation they are now making into the subject, will consider the desirability of ceasing to enforce labour contracts entered into for a term of years?


The answer to the first question is, Yes. The attention of the Secretary of State has been frequently called to this matter by questions in Parliament, and it has been pointed out that such questions are suggested by those who desire to substitute a system of free immigration for the safeguards of the Act of 1882. The answer to the second question is also in the affirmative. The Government of India consider that the higher mortality among the labourers under the Act is to a great extent accounted for by the fact that these are chiefly new comers, while the non-Act labourers are generally old hands who are seasoned and acclimatised. As to the second paragraph of the question, it is one which, as I have before pointed out to the House, is based on isolated facts picked out of the official Reports of many years past. It gives a most erroneous impression of the actual state of the tea gardens. The answer to the fourth question is, Yes. This is one of the points which is engaging the attention of the Government.