HC Deb 26 May 1924 vol 174 cc11-3
45. Mr. SNELL

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is aware that, in the recruitment of emigrants from the ceded districts of Madras for the Assam Tea Estates, no agreements are given to employés, the agents at the depot are only expected to read a questionnaire to the intending emigrants and to take their thumb impressions, and a male coolie who has worked or been in a tea garden for only 15 days can become a sirdar or a female coolie a sirdarini by undertaking to recruit coolies; and whether he will take steps to secure the publication of the questionnaire referred to and the avoidance of abuses in the matter of such recruitment?


If my hon. Friend will communicate with me regarding the particular cases and questionnaire which he has in mind, the matter can be inquired into, but I do not at present fully understand the nature of the abuses which he apprehends in free recruitment of the kind which he describes.

46. Mr. SNELL

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is aware that, under the Assam Emigration Act (No. VI. of 1901), the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act (No. XIII. of 1859, amended in 1920), and Section 492 of the Indian Penal Code, a workman can be compelled to work for an employer with whom he has made an agreement for service, and that in case of refusal he may be punished with imprisonment as a criminal offender; that by an agreement entered into by members of the planters' association in Assam all labourers living within the area of a particular garden are considered coolies of that garden, and the employment of labourers of one garden by another is prohibited under penalties, and that an outsider makes himself liable for prosecution for trespass if he should approach a labourer on any tea garden in Assam, thus making it impossible to start any agency for social, religious, or educational work without the express permission of the managers of the tea gardens; and whether he will take steps to secure the repeal of the Acts referred to and the enactment of legislation regulating the conditions of life and work on tea gardens in India, and for the proper inspection of such conditions?


As the answer is somewhat long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The following is the answer:

The penal provisions of the Assam Labour and Emigration Act have been withdrawn. Under the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act as amended in 1920 a workman who has received an advance of money on account, of work which he has contracted to perform and is proved to have refused without reasonable excuse to perform it, may in the discretion of the magistrate be ordered to do so or to repay the advance or part of it, and may be sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding three months if he fail to comply with the order. Section 492 of the Indian Penal Code provides a penalty of one month's imprisonment or fine for unreasonable refusal to perform work contracted for at a place to which the workman has been conveyed at another person's expense. I am not aware of any prohibition of the freedom of movement and employment in Assam such as is suggested in the second part of the question. As regards the third part of the question, the Government of India have decided to repeal the Workmen's Breach of Contract Act with effect from 1st April, 1926. The question of Section 492 of the Penal Code, which I understand is rarely used, has also been under consideration, and my Noble Friend will inquire how the matter stands