The Indian mines maternity
benefit question, 1919-1947
Dhaka University, Bangladesh
Although women constituted a significant part of the total labour force in
the mines of India,’ yet till the end of the First World War very little was
done to promote their health and welfare. In the absence of welfare legis-
latin and voluntary work, women faced serious hardship and privation
especially during the period of their confinement. Not only were they not
paid any wages for the period of their absence, in some cases they lost their
jobs and incurred heavy debts to defray the expenses of this critical period of
their lives. The International Labour Organisation, founded at the end of
World War I to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions for labour,
in their very first conference held at Washington in 1919 recommended to its
member states, including India, the necessity of providing adequate
maternity benefit to their female labour employed in the industrial estab-
lishments. The main provisions of the draft convention (stipulated in articles
3 and 4) were: (a) rest periods of six weeks before and after confinement; (b)
sufficient maintenance for the mother and child including the provision of
free attendance by a doctor or a midwife; (c) an allowance of half-an-hour
twice daily for nursing the child; and (d) security against dismissal on
account of absence due to confinement.2 Ever since the adoption of this
convention at Washington, the question of maternity benefit had become a
subject of debate and discussion in India both inside and outside the legis-
lature. As it is not possible to study in detail all aspects of the issue in such a
short paper, we intend to limit ourselves to certain aspects of it. Section I
examines the working of voluntary maternity benefit schemes in the British
Asnowkdgcmmts: I am grateful to Dr. Dharma Kumar for encouraging me to undertake this
research work. My thanks are also due to J.M. Sims of the India Office Library and Records for
helping me with some statistical data. I would Gke to thank my referees for their valuable
comments. The responsibility for the final draft is, of course, entirely mine.
1 In 1926, for example, out of approximately 260,113 workers employed in the mines subject
to the Indian Mines Act, 78,497 or 30.18 per cent were women. Government of India, Report of
the Labour Investigation Committee (main report) (Delhi, 1946), p. 24.
2 Proceedings of the Government of Bengal, Commerce Department (Commerce)
(henceforth Commerce Proceedings), April 1921, No. 1, Appendix II, pp. 36-37.
Indian mines. Section II deals with the enactment of the Indian Mines
Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, which was put in the statute book ’to regulate
the employment of women in mines for a certain period before and after
childbirth and to provide for payment of maternity benefit to them’.3 It also
critically examines the main provisions of the Act. Section III is a study of
the working of the Act.
Although in 1919 the International Labour Organisation had recommended
its member states to make provisions for maternity benefit for women
working in industrial establishments before and after confinement, the
Government of India, at the behest of the industrial employers, refused to
ratify the draft convention The reasons attributed by the Government of
India for doing so were the difficulty in the enforcement of compulsory
abstinence from work under existing conditions as women could easily
obtain work in non-regulated factories or in agriculture, the inaccurate
system of birth registration in India, the inadequacy of female doctors in
view of the unwillingness of women workers to obtain medical certificates
except from women doctors, the negative response from the local govern-
ments against the institution of a compulsory levy for the grant of pecuniary
help during the period of absence from work, and, the ease at which women
workers could be reinstated once they were fit to resume work.s As a result
of these alleged difficulties,6 the Government of India in z21 decided
against flte institution of compulsory maternity benefit payment. They felt
that at this stage of the industrial development of the country ’more would
probably be gained by enlisting the sympathy of the management than by
passing legislation’.’ Accordingly they instructed the local governments to
encourage a voluntary system of maternity benefits and the provision of
medical aid to industrial workers during the period of childbirth,.’ Thus since
3 The Bill was published in Part V of the Gazette of India dated 11 October 1941 and was
reproduced together with the statement of objects and reasons in the Labour Gazette, October
1941, pp. 171-75. The changes introduced by the legislature in the original Bill were printed in
ibid., December 1941, pp. 369-70.
4 Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, ’Government and Business Attitude towards Labour Welfare in Bengal:
The Maternity Benefit Question,’ a paper presented at a seminar on State and Business in India at
the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India, from 29 February to 3 March 1984. The
proceedings of the seminar are being published in a book by Manohar Book Service, New Delhi.
5 Commerce Proceedings, July 1925, No. 49, p. 115. See also the speech of the Hon’ble Sir
Bhupendra Nath Mitra (Industries Member) on the Maternity Benefit Bill in the Legislative
Assembly Debates, 3 February 1925, Vol. 5, No. 9.
6 These difficulties were not insurmountable and could be overcome had the Government
been honest. For details, Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, ’Government and Business Attitude towards
Labour Welfare in Bengal,’ op. cit.
7 Commerce Proceedings, July 1921, No. 38, pp. 113-16.
8 See the proceedings of the Simla conference on maternity benefit question held on 9 May
1921 in the Commerce Proceedings, July 1921, No. 38, pp. 113-16; and ibid., December 1924,
No. 40, p. 29.
1921 the official policy of the Government of India had been the encour-
agement of voluntary maternity benefit schemes suited to the varying con-
ditions in each industry.
An examination of the working of the voluntary maternity benefit schemes
in the mining industries till the end of the 1930s, however, shows that
excluding a few colliery companies, which had voluntarily adopted some
sort of maternity benefit schemes, others ignored it altogether. One of the
earliest to adopt a scheme was the East India Railway. It claimed to have
paid to every woman who had a child an amount of ’about Rs. 1-8-0 or Rs.
1-12-0 a week’ for a period of eight weeks on condition that the woman did
not work and remained at home during this period.9 The money was given
four weeks before and four weeks after the birth of the child to the woman
herself or to her mother or husband.
maternity benefit scheme in operation. But the precise nature of the scheme
as stated by its Chief Medical Officer, U.P. Chatterjee, is, however, not very
The Burrakur Coal Company in their statement claimed that for four
collieries belonging to this company it had paid an amount of Rs. 1,473 as
confinement allowance for 350 cases during the period from January to
December 1928, the average amount per case being a little over Rs. 4 and 3
annas.’2 Tata collieries, as stated by the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee,
paid their workers eight weeks leave on full pay after a minimum of one
year’s continuous service.’3 The same report also states that the Bhagtand
Colliery granted leave for two weeks and paid a fixed allowance of Rs. 4 and
the Argada Colliery paid one month’s full pay to their workers at childbirth. 14
Apart from the above few, we do not come across references to any other
companies which had maternity benefit schemes. In this category fall most of
the large colliery companies owned and managed by foreigners like Bengal
Coal, Seebpore Coal, Katras Jherriah (all managed by Andrew Yule and
Company); Equitable, Dhemo Main, West Jamuria, Aldih (managed by
Macneill and Company); New Beerbhum managed by Balmer Lawrie and
North Damuda managed by Shaw Wallace and Company. Some of the
larger colliery companies owned and managed by the Indians like that of
Kirkend Colliery owned by Indra Narayan Chandra and others also did not
have any schemes of maternity benefit.’S However, a few claimed to have
schemes under which a daily payment was given as sick khoraki while the
10 Eastern Coal Company also had a
9 Royal Commission on Labour in India (henceforth referred to as RCL
Vol. 4, Part II (London, 1930), pp. 358-59.
Ibid., p. 111. U.P. Chatterjee had stated that ’when a woman is five months pregnant, she
begins to get five annas wages, this she gets till one month after the birth of the child’.
Ibid., Vol. 4, Part I, Written Evidence, p. 37.
13 Report of the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee, Vol. 1, Recommendations (Patna,1940),
15 RCL, Oral Evidence, Vol. 4, Part II, p. 132.
woman was off work or a bonus paid for each birth.’6 As regards other
mining industries such as mica, manganese, iron ore, etc., it is highly
doubtful whether they had any schemes of maternity benefit. The only
exception in this category was perhaps the Central Provinces Manganese
Ore Company. Although we have no precise information on when the
company began to pay maternity benefit, it claimed to have paid an amount
of Rs. 2,802-2--0 in 1940 in 475 cases, the average amount per case being a
little over Rs. 5-14 annas. I
Not only were maternity benefit schemes rare in the mining industries, the
few which had such schemes did not go far enough. In the first place the
amount paid as maternity benefit was considered most inadequate. The East
India Railway claimed to have paid Rs. 1-8-0 to Rs. 1-12~ a week which
was four annas or so on the average per day. The Burrakur Coal Company
paid on the average Rs. 4-3 annas for the entire confinement period while
Bhagtand paid a fixed allowance of Rs. 4 only. This amount was not even
adequate to cover the basic needs of a woman at subsistence level and if
allowance is made for the fact that the needs of a woman for a period before
and after delivery is more, the inadequacy of the amount becomes all the
more glaring. It is also to be remembered that in the virtual absence of
proper medical facilities, it was the universal practice to employ the services
of a dai at childbirth which cost anything up to Rs. 5.18 Equally insufficient
was the period of benefit. In view of the strenuous nature of the job
involved, women at the collieries usually remained absent from work for a
period of at least three months before and after delivery.’9 Although the
Washington conference of 1919 had recommended six weeks rest period
both before and after confinement, none of the mines voluntarily imple-
mented this. The East India Railway and Tatas, which paid their employees
for eight weeks before and after childbirth, came nearest this recommenda-
tion. Here, too, restrictions of various sorts such as a minimum of one year’s
service, etc., were put before one could enjoy leave with full benefits.2°
There were also deficiencies (if not exaggerated claims or false claims on
the part of the employers) in the disbursement of maternity allowance.
Either for want of supervision or defects in the rules, or due to some
16 The most notable of these was in Giridih. The Colliery Benefit Fund, established in 1892,
claimed to have paid Rs. 4-8 for each living birth. Further details of the scheme are, however,
not available. See Commerce Proceedings, December 1924, No. 49, pp. 37-38. Some collieries
including Saltore Colliery in Bihar also paid khoraki as did some others in Bengal. See, Bihar
Labour Enquiry Committee, p. 61; RCL, Vol. 4, Part I, Written Evidence, p. 208 and B.R.
Seth, Labour in the Indian Coal Industry (Bombay, 1940), p. 163.
17 Government of India, Labour Investigation Committee, Report on an Enquiry into
Conditions of Labour in the Manganese Mining Industry in India (by D. V. Rege) (Delhi, 1946),
18 RCL Oral Evidence, Vol. 4, Part II, pp. 134-35, 138 and 169.
20 Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee, Vol. 1, p. 61.
other reason not quite clear to us, the beneficiaries, very often, did not get
the entire amount of the benefit. Thus, for example, while the East India
Railway claimed to pay Rs. 1-8-0 to Rs. 1-12~ a week for a period of eight
weeks to their women employees at childbirth, in actual practice Gangia
Kamin of the Serampore Colliery, Giridih (run by the E. I. Railway)
claimed to have received a consolidated sum of only Rs. 4-8 annas from the
head clerk when her child was born.2’ Again, while the Loyabad Colliery
claimed to pay an allowance for three to four weeks at the rate of four annas
a day before and six annas a day after childbirth 22 (which should not have
been below Rs. 7 for the entire confinement period), in actual practice the
average payments of the company on account of maternity benefit was just
over Rs. 4.23 Small payments from 8 annas to Rs. 2 made by a few colliery
owners which did not have maternity benefit schemes did not necessarily
reach the beneficiaries. 24
If direct maternity benefits were inadequate, the employers were equally
callous about the provision of medical facilities for their female employees.
Till the end of the 1930s only a handful of larger collieries maintained
responsible doctors and hospitals situated near their mines.&dquo; Some of the
larger ones like Messrs. Andrew Yule and Company employed at their
collieries certified midwives trained at the Eden Hospital, Calcutta.26 The
vast majority had, however, neither doctors nor midwives of their own. Due
to the lack of medical facilities, therefore, women preferred to go back to
their villages during childbirth. There they fell into the hands of indigenous
dais. ’None of the indigenous dais appeared to have had any outside training.
In no case did they own a pair of scissors, but used the ordinary household
knife, or in the country the sickle to be found in each home. 12 Not infre-
quently, deaths occurred among workers at childbirth.2° To help in the
mining industry at this critical moment of their lives, therefore, the Mines
Board of Health, the Asansol Mines Board of Health (for Ranigunj) and the
Jharria Mines Board of Health (for Jharria) established by the provincial
governments (in 1912 and 1913 respectively), came forward to help them,
but due to sheer vastness of the mining areas and lack of adequate resources
21 RCL, Oral Evidence, Vol. 4, Part II, p. 365.
22 Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee, Vol. 1, p. 61.
23 The Loyabad Colliery belonged to the Burrakur Coal Company. The Company, according
to their own statement of accounts mentioned earlier, paid on an average Rs. 4-3 annas only.
24 Kirkend Colliery claimed to pay Rs. 1 when a child was born. On the other hand, Kolli, a
woman worker of the same mine, alleged that she received nothing when her baby was born.
See, RCL, Vol. 4, Part II, pp. 134-35, 138.
25 Although some of the collieries maintained doctors, none of them were females. See B.R.
Seth, Labour in the Indian Coal Industry (Bombay, 1940), p. xiii.
26 Commerce Proceedings, December 1924, No. 49, pp. 37-38.
27 Bulletin of Indian Industries and Labour, No. 31, Women’s Labour in Bengal Industries
(by Dagmer F. Curjel) (Calcutta, 1923), p. 34.
at their command these Boards could not function as efficiently as was
desirable.Z9 In the 1930s, however, there seemed to have been a definite
improvement in the or.ganisation of the Boards.3° The number of certified
midwives was increased and Health Visitors appointed who not only attended
childbirths but also advised mothers before and after births. Yet a lot
remained to be done, especially in the Ranigunj area as B.R. Seth points out
in his study of colliery labour in India:
The collieries should appoint their own midwives. Six or seven midwives
or Health Visitors of the Health Board cannot do the work so effectively
as a midwife at a colliery .... It should be made compulsory for a colliery
of a certain size to appoint a midwife.&dquo;
There was also the problem of nursing babies. The problem, as yet universally
ignored, needed to be solved through the introduction of the creche system.
But more important than the inadequacy of maternity benefit schemes
and defects in its working, was the deliberate policy of the employers to
reduce the number of women in the coal mines ever since the question began
to be discussed and debated seriously in India in the early 1920s. The
proportion of women in the coal mines which was increasing till 1920 began
to decrease from 1921 onwards. Thus in 1920, the percentage of adult female
workers was 38.11 and it started declining gradually till it reached 11.39 per
cent in 1939 (see Table 1). No doubt the principal reason for such wholesale
reduction was the result of the government decision to progressively eliminate
women from underground work from 1929 onwards, but even so it is difficult
for us to account for the pronounced fall in the proportion of women to men
for the period from 1921 to 1929. It is most likely, therefore, that the
employers had started recruiting more males than females since the early
1920s so as to avoid the payment of compulsory maternity benefit in the
future. Had we the data, it would have been interesting, in this context, to
study the age and civil condition of the women workers in the mines for the
years prior to the introduction of the principle of voluntary maternity benefit
schemes in 1920 and afterwards. It would have allowed us to investigate
whether there had been a shift in the preference of the employers towards
the employment of unmarried girls, widows and women past child-bearing
That voluntary maternity benefit schemes would not probably work in India
wasperhaps realised by N.M. Joshi, the veteran labour leader in the 1920s.
" B.R. Seth, op. cit., pp. 16, 157-62.
31 Ibid., p. 161.
Table 5.1 contd.
Note: A = above ground; B = below ground; N.A. = not available
Source: Department of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, India, Indian Coal Statistics,
1939 (Delhi, 1941), p. 56; Government of India,~Report on an Enquiry into Condition
of Labour in the Coal Mining Industry in India (by S.R. Deshpande) (Delhi, 1946),
His fear found expression in his introduction of a Maternity Benefit Bill in
the Legislative Assembly in September 1924 ’to regulate the employment of
women in factories and mines and estates.... ’32 The object of the Bill, as he
pointed out, was to carry out some of the proposals contained in the Draft
Convention passed at the first International Labour Conference at
Washington in 1919.33 But the Bill was defeated in the legislature as a result
of combined opposition from the government and the representatives of the
business interest groups. 34
In August 1926, a resolution was also moved in the Bihar and Orissa
Legislative Council by Lala Baijnath calling upon the government to take
early steps ’to protect female labour employed in the coalfields .... 935
Although the motion was carried by 35 to 27 votes, the provincial government
took no steps to implement it as they considered the issue an all-India
subject and fit to be dealt with by the Legislative Assembly.36 The Royal
Commission on Labour did take up the issue later in 1929-30, but unfor-
32 See Commerce Proceedings, July 1925, No. 32, pp. 67-69 for further details of N.M.
Joshi’s Maternity Benefit Bill, 1924.
34 Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, ’Government and Business Attitude towards Labour Welfare in
Bengal,’ op. cit.
35 See, ’Final Memorandum of the Government of Bihar and Orissa’ to the RCL, Evidence,
Vol. 4, Part I, Written Evidence, pp. 37-38.
tunately the majority of the members doubted whether the number of
women in the mining industries likely to qualify for benefits would be
sufficient to warrant legislation.37 As a result of this regrettable decision of
the Royal Commission, the question of enactment of maternity benefit
legislation for women working at the mines remained outside the pale of
discussion and debate till 1939. But then one may raise the question: how far
was the doubt of the Royal Commission justified? It was well known to the
members of the Commission that even in 1926 no less than 30 per cent of the
workers at the mines or over 78,000 were females38 and that of this figure
approximately 27 per cent worked underground.39 Hence, even if as a result
of government decision to progressively eliminate women from underground
work was carried out fully,4° the majority of the women workers would still
be working at the mines at the end of the period. Later figures indeed
showed that in 1939 no less than over 50,000 women were working at the
mines and this figure rose to over 72,000 in 1943.4’ As to the question of the
number of women among them likely to qualify for maternity benefits, it
depended very much upon the kind of legislation. But that a considerable
number of women could qualify’ for these benefits was proved later in the
1940s when the maternity benefit legislation of 1941 came into operation.
The actual reason, therefore, for not recommending maternity benefit
legislation perhaps lay elsewhere, i.e., in the pressure which the mining
interest groups put upon the government and the members of the Com-
mission through their powerful organisations and associations. In their
evidence before the Royal Commission, one of the Calcutta representatives
of the Indian Mining Association (the mines of which raised 50.13 per cent of
37 RCL, pp. 263-64.
38 Labour Investigation Committee (main report), op. cit., p. 24.
39 Ibid. The percentage is, however, that of 1928.
40 The process of progressively eliminating women from underground work was started in
1929 and completed by 1937. The decision to do so was taken by the Government of India in
view of unhealthy conditions of underground work. It must be pointed out, however, that the
pressure on the Government of India to ban women working underground was immense since
the beginning of the twentieth century. Section 20, sub-section (2) (1) of the Indian Mines Act,
1901, enabled the Governor-General-in-Council or the local government to make rules prohi-
biting, restricting or regulating the employment of women underground or in particular kinds of
labour where such employment was attended by danger to the life, safety or health of women.
No rules, however, appeared to have been passed under this sub-section in the next twenty-two
years. When framing the Indian Mines Bill, 1923, the Government of India, therefore, faced
considerable pressure to prohibit forthwith the employment of women in mines by statute. But
it was not conceded by the Government of India as they thought that immediate prohibition
would very seriously disorganise a very important key industry. The government, however,
after further agitation in the country, decided that after 1 July 1929 the percentage of women
working underground would annually be reduced till it was completely eradicated. See Labour
Gazette, July 1923, p. 30; and the speech of Renuka Ray (nominated non-official) on the lifting
of the ban on employment of women for underground work in coal mines in the Legislative
Assembly Debates, 8 February 1944, Vol. 1 of 1944, pp. 119-21.
41 Labour Investigation Committee (main report), op. cit., p. 24.
the total coal production of British India and the Indian States in 1932),42 A.
A. F. Bray opined: ’I am not at all sure how far it is the duty of an employer
to provide maternity benefits. 143 He felt that the Mines Board of Health
could do a little more in this regard.&dquo; Similarly, when asked by the Royal
Commission whether he had any objection about the payment of maternity
benefit, P.S. Keelan of the Ranigunj Coalfield stated: ’if the trade agrees
and could afford it’.45 The Bengal Chamber of Commerce, on the other
hand, was of the opinion that all such benefits should be provided ’either by
the state or at the cost of the general taxpayer, or by a system of national
insurance’. 46 They highly objected to the taxing of industries for such a
purpose.47 Besides pressure of business organisations, depression in the coal
trade itself might have also influenced the members of the Commission to
withhold maternity benefit legislation. However, it will not be out of place to
mention here that some of the bigger colliery concerns, even during this
period of economic depression, were not making less profit than industries
like tea or cotton textile or the engineering and metal industries of Bengali&dquo;
The net result of this unfortunate decision of the Royal Commission, there-
fore, was the deprivation of thousands of women who would otherwise have
qualified to receive maternity benefit.
The ball for the enactment of maternity benefit legislation for women
employed at the mines, however, started re-rolling again after popular
ministries took office in the provinces in 1937-38 under the new constitution.
(Under the Montford Reforms of 1919 labour was a ’reserved’ subject.) In
1939, the Government of Bengal, on the suggestion made by the Select
Committee of the Bengal Legislative Council on the Bengal Maternity
Benefit Bill, brought to the notice of the Government of India the necessity
of similar legislation in respect of women employed in the mines.49 About
the same time, the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee also recommended the
enactment of maternity benefit legislation ’without delay’ as this was
considered to be a ’well recognised and essential form of benefit to the
women workers’.&dquo; The lifting of depression and the subsequent increase in
the rate of profitability of the industry had also exerted influence in the same
42 See Commerce Proceedings, August 1934, No. 68, pp. 2-4, 55. The total production of coal
in 1932 was 20,153,000 tons in British India and the Indian States, out of which the output of
coal of the mines represented by the Indian Mining Association was 10,102,006 tons.
43 RCL, Vol. 4, Part II, p. 331.
45 Ibid., pp. 227-28.
46 See, Letter No. 596,1925, Calcutta, 5 March 1925, in Commerce Proceedings, July 1925,
No. 53, pp. 121-22.
48 See, Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, The Industrial Development of Bengal, 1900-1939 (New Delhi,
1982), pp. 105-11.
49 Government of Bengal, Abstract of Proceedings of the Department of Commerce and
Labour (Commerce), B Proceedings, July 1939, p. 13.
50 Report of the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee, Vol. 1, pp. 61-62.
direction. 51 Also important was the pressure mounted by the All India Trade
Union Congress in its meeting with the Member for Commerce and
Labour, Hon’ble Diwan Bahadur Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar, at Calcutta
in January 1941, where they demanded immediate legislation not only for
the coal mines (till then contemplated) but also for all industrial organisations
where female labour was employed. 52 Anxious to secure increased pro-
duction for supporting the war effort, and also the sympathetic outlook with
which the popular governments in the provinces viewed problems of labour, 53
influenced the Government of India to go for legislation. The employers,
therefore, finding that further opposition to legislation would be futile,
decided to extend their support to it. The Government of India accordingly
after further consultations at the Second Conference of Labour Ministers
held at New Delhi on 27-28 January 1941 decided to draft a Bill to regulate
the employment of women in mines for a certain period before and after
childbirth and to provide for payment of maternity benefit to them. 54 The
Bill was subsequently introduced in the Legislative Assembly by Sir
Ramaswami Mudaliar on 27 October 1941 and on 5 November it was taken
into consideration and passed by the Assembly with certain amendments.&dquo;
On being approved by the Council of State on 13 November it finally
received the assent of the Governor-General on 26 November 1941.’6
The Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, made provisions, among other
things, for the payment of maternity benefit for a period of eight weeks.’7
This period of eight weeks was divided into two parts of four weeks each,
one part preceding delivery and another part succeeding delivery. 58 The four
weeks before delivery was a period of optional rest during which a woman
51 The average dividend declared by the coal companies in 1939 was 12.97 per cent. See, P.C.
Jain, ’Problems of the Indian Coal Mining Industry,’ in Capital,
52 Labour Gazette, Vol. 21, No. 2, October 1941, pp. 191-92. Here it may be mentioned that
the All India Trade Union Congress which had split up in 1929 at Nagpur under the presidentship
of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once again began unity talks in 1938 but it was not before another
two and a half years that ’restoration of trade union unity that appeared as a real prospect
in April 1938 assumed a full and galvanised form in September 1940’. After the merger of
AITUC and NTUF (National Trade Union Federation) ’all unions of the NTUF became
automatically the affiliates of the AITUC and all assets and liabilities of the NTUF were
transferred to the ATTUC. Thus on restoration of complete unity, the number of affiliated
unions of the AITUC stood at 195 with a total membership of 374,256.’ See, Sukomal Sen,
Working Class of India: History of Emergence and Movement, 1830-1970 (Calcutta, 1977),
pp. 369-70, 90.
53 V.V. Giri, Labour Problems in Indian Industry (Bombay, 1962), p. 23.
54 Bulletin No. 72 of the Indian Industries and Labour contains a report of the proceedings of
the Second Conference of Labour Ministers.
55 Legislative Assembly Debates, 27 October 1941, Vol. 4 of 1941, p. 106; and ibid., 5
November 1941, pp. 425-55.
56 The Council of State Debates, 13 November 1941, Vol. 2 of 1941, p. 113; Labour Gazette,
Vol. 21, No. 4, December 1941, p. 369.
57 The Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941 (Act No. XIX of 1941), Section 5.
14 February 1946, p. 284.
might work and get full wages or absent herself and get the maternity
benefit. 59 With regard to the four weeks succeeding delivery, it was a period
of compulsory rest during which the woman was debarred from work.60 As
regards the amount of maternity benefit, the Act made provision for the
payment of 8 annas a day for every day during the eight weeks before and
after delivery, provided she had served in that mine or in the mines belonging
to the owner of that mine for a period of not less than 6 months preceding the
date of her delivery.6’ The Act also made provision for an additional
payment of a bonus not exceeding Rs. 3 if at the time of her confinement she
utilised the services of a qualified midwife or other trained person.62 Further,
to simplify the process of payment in case the woman died leaving the newly
born child, the Act made provision for nominating a legal representative
who would be allowed to receive such balance, if any.63 Provision was also
made against wrongful dismissal of a woman ’at any time within six months
before she is delivered of a child’ .64 Appeals against such dismissals could be
made to the Chief Inspector of Mines whose decision was final in this regard.
Despite all that, the Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, did not go far
enough. Excepting the provision of a bonus payment to encourage women
to go to qualified medical persons at childbirth, none of the provisions went
further than the existing provincial acts. This provision, too, was absent in
the original bill drafted by the government but was added in an amendment
brought forward by N.M. Joshi in the Assembly. 6-1 The original bill also
required nine months continuous service to qualify for maternity benefit.
This was reduced to six months when Joshi pointed out the existence of
similar legislation in the United Provinces Act.66 The amount of benefit was
fixed at the rate of 8 annas a day whatever the wages drawn by the woman
before confinement might have been. This provision of the Act was even
more retrogressive than the Bengal maternity benefit legislation of 1939
which had fixed the benefit at 8 annas a day or her average daily earnings
whichever was mores But probably the worst part of the Act was the period
of benefit which was fixed at eight weeks, four weeks before and four weeks
after confinement. No doubt this was in line with the existing provincial
59 Legislative Assembly Debates, 29 July 1943, Vol. 3 of 1943, p. 180.
61 The Mines Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, op. cit. , Section 5.
62 Ibid., Section 6.
63 Ibid., Section 8.
64 Ibid., Section 9.
65 The original amendment moved by Joshi was adopted with slight changes in its content
after fuller discussion in the Assembly. See Legislative Assembly Debates, 5 November 1941,
Vol. 4 of 1941, pp. 446-52.
66 Ibid., pp. 438-39.
67 Bengal Legislative Assembly Debates, 19 August 1938, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 252-53. It was
most unfortunate that no member of the Assembly had the knowledge of the existence of this
provision in the Bengal Act.
maternity benefit acts, but an exception should have been made in this case
in view of the hard and rough nature of a mining job (in consideration of
which the employment of women in mines had been banned in all countries
of the world except in Russia, Japan and India).68 Moreover, the extension
of this period would have been only in line with the spirit of the principle of
the draft convention of the International Labour Office of 1919. Nor would
it have been a great burden on the industry itself as P.N. Sapru so rightly
... the number of women employed in mines is only one-fourth of the
total working population in mines, and we know that women workers do
not get equal pay with men. They get about half the men’s wages.
Therefore, so far as the cost of production is concerned, it will not go up
very much if the period is extended from four to six weeks before and
Besides, the period of four weeks after delivery also clashed with the local
custom of some of the provinces of India not to allow their women to work
before the expiry of a period of forty days rest after childbirth.70 But the
representatives of the European business community turned a deaf ear to
these arguments. Contrary to the recommendations of the Washington
Conference of 1919, they believed that twelve weeks absence before and
after childbirth was neither necessary nor was it desirable.&dquo; ’Let us be
tolerant and sympathetic but do not let us overstep the line, and, in our
magnanimity, indulge in extravagances,’ opined one of the European members
of the Assembly.’2 The government on their part too sided with the em-
ployers interest. Rejecting the amendments brought forward, the govern-
ment called upon the opposition to show patience and patriotism. It observed:
... when you have to break to saddle a new colt you must put the weight
on him gradually. If you put too much weight on him all at once, he will
begin to kick. The industry has to progress by the co-operation of factory
owners and workers. It is then alone that we can get the happy medium
which we all wish to see achieved. 73
68 Government of India, Labour Investigation Committee, Report on an Enquiry into
Conditions of Labour in the Coal Mining Industry in India (by S.R. Deshpande) op. cit.,p. 18.
69 The Council of State Debates, 13 November 1941, Vol. 2 of 1941, p. 112.
70 This practice, called Chali-Ho, meaning that women must remain indoors and not work
for forty days, was practised in the Central Provinces, the Punjab, the United Provinces and
even in Sind. No doubt existing provincial maternity benefit acts ignored such local customs,
some members of the Assembly like Lalchand Navalrai and Sardar Sant Singh raised the issue
afresh as it affected the sentiment of all classes of people in India. See, Legislative Assembly
Debates, 5 November 1941, pp. 426, 433.
72 Lt. Col. Sir Henry Gidney in ibid., p. 437.
73 Hon’ble Malik Sir Firoz Khan Noon, Labour Member, in the Council of State Debates,
13 November 1941, Vol. 2 of 1941, pp. 112-13.
71 Ibid., pp. 433-37.
The question still puzzles us: what was really the actual reason behind the
enactment of such a retrogressive act? The answer to this question probably
lies in the organisational efficiency and strength of the European business
community in India. Being better educated, prosperous and close to the
ruling elite by virtue of their common culture and origin, the Europeans who
dominated the mining industry had powerful business organisations especially
in eastern India through which they exerted pressure on the government to
safeguard their economic interests even if it meant injustice and gross
exploitation of the working class people. Earlier they were instrumental in
delaying the enactment of maternity benefit legislation in Bengal.74 Similarly,
they played not an insignificant part in defeating the plantations maternity
benefit bill of that province.’s In Bihar also no such provincial legislation
could be passed due to their staunch opposition.’6 It was no wonder, there-
fore, that they would be unwilling to go beyond what had already been
conceded in the various provincial acts. The colonial government of the day
also, for obvious reasons, thought it wiser to .lend support to their own
community. It was no wonder then that the result of such an ’alliance’ should
have been limited and unprogressive.
The Act, however, underwent considerable changes during the war in
1945. The main reason which prompted this change was the unilateral
decision of the Government of India to lift the ban on the employment of
women underground in coal mines in the major coal areas.&dquo; As per recom-
mendations of the Select Committee constituted to further amend the Mines
Maternity Benefit Act, 1941, the daily rate of benefit was increased from 8 to
12 annas, and an enhanced rate of six rupees a week was fixed for a woman
who had worked underground for not less than ninety days during the six
months prior to delivery. 78 The period of benefit was also extended from
eight weeks to sixteen weeks in the case of women working underground. 79
This benefit was payable for a period of ten weeks prior to her confinement
and six weeks after confinement.&dquo;’ The Act also prohibited the working of
women underground from four to thirty-six weeks after confinement.81 This
period of thirty-six weeks was broken up into two parts: a period of complete
74 Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, ’Government and Business Attitude towards Labour Welfare in
Bengal,’ op. cit.
76 RCL, Evidence, Vol. 4, Part I, Written Evidence, pp. 37-38.
77 See, the Statement of Objects and Reasons for amending the Mines Maternity Benefit
Act, 1941 in the Gazette of India, 10
March 1945, Part V, p. 46.
78 See, Report of the Select Committee on the Bill to Amend the Mines Maternity Benefit
Act, 1941, in ibid., 7 April 1945, Part V, pp. 79-80; the Mines Maternity Benefit (Amendment)
Act, 1945 (Act No. X of 1945) in ibid., 21 April 1945, Part IV, pp. 20-22; Legislative Assembly
Debates, 11 April 1945, Vol. 4 of 1945, pp. 2788-95.
79 The Mine Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 1945, in the Gazette of India, 21 April
1945, Part IV, pp. 20-22; Legislative Assembly Debates, 11 April 1945, pp. 2788-95.
prohibition which was followed up by a period of partial prohibition.82 The
period of complete prohibition was for a period of twenty-six weeks. The
period of partial prohibition covered ten weeks which was again made
subject to two different prescriptions dependent upon the existence or
non-existence of a creche. During the period of partial prohibition, a woman
was not to work underground for more than four hours if there was no
creche, and, second, she was not to work underground for more than four
hours at any one time even if there was a creche. 83 Another important
addition was the right of a pregnant woman to be medically examined by a
woman doctor if the woman demanded it.&dquo;’ These modifications and
increased benefits provided in the Mines Maternity Benefit (Amendment)
Act, 1945, were not, however, an act of grace on the part of the employers
and the government. As a result of bad working conditions and low wages a
great shortage of labour for employment in coal mines had become noticeable
in 1943.85 This shortage of labour did not only affect coal output but also
hampered the war efforts of the country.81 Under the circumstances, the
only reasonable solution was to make the collieries sufficiently attractive to
the labourers by raising their wages and improving their working conditions.
However, as this involved considerable capital investments and a reduction
in the amount of profits, colliery owners influenced the government to
withdraw the ban on the working of women underground. This the
Government of India did by infringing international conventions in 1943 and
85 For details regarding the causes of labour shortage in the collieries, see Legislative
Assembly Debates, 29 July 1943, Vol. 3 of 1943, p. 181; Capital, 21 October 1943, p. 480; ibid.,
30 March 1944, p. 473; ibid., 6 July 1944, p. 23. As a result of labour shortage in the colliery
region, labour had to be imported from the Mysore gold mines. See, ibid., 27 July 1944, p. 113.
86 Output of coal in British Indian provinces and Indian States had dropped suddenly as can
be seen from the figures below:
See Report of the Indian Coalfields Committee,1946, Vol. 1 (Delhi,1947), p. 341. Due to a ’coa’
famine’ industrial production suffered tremendously. At one time, for example, ten double and
eleven single shift jute mills, representing more than 44 per cent of the productive capacity of
the industry, had to be closed down owing to a shortage of coal. Capital, 29 August 1945,