The Madras Compulsory Labour Act, 1858

The Madras Compulsory Labour Act, 1858 dated 20th January, 1858 was enacted with a purpose for making compulsory labour lawful. The main objective of the act is to prevent inundation and enforce customary labour incase of agricultural works that requires irrigation. The Madras Compulsory Labour Act, 1858 is presently known as The (Tamil Nadu) Compulsory Labour Act, 1858 after the Tamil Nadu Adaptation of Laws Order, 1969 enforced on 14th January 1969.

  The Preamble of the Act sets forth the principle and the purpose for which the act was constituted. It says, incase of any danger caused by overflowing of embankments of tanks, rivers, canals and any other water body of like nature, persons shall be united and do everything possible required to prevent any danger, such persons called upon shall make instant repairs to such water bodies, tanks and canals. Persons mentioned under the preamble were labourers; the word has now been omitted pursuant to Adaptation Amendment Order, 1950.

  Section 1 of the act provides that whenever necessary the officer in-charge of a tank, canal or river may call people for carrying out repair work of an embankment posing threat to public at large. The persons so called shall work together towards strengthening of such embankment to avoid destruction of any nature. That incase it is required to consult the village heads the same shall be done by the officer in-charge who shall call all adult male members of the village above age of eighteen years incase repairs of such water body, tank or canal is possible. The officer in charge in consultation with village- head shall do

everything necessary to prevent inundation. Incase of absence of the officer when such critical situation arises the tehsildar of the region or taluq shall take the necessary steps.

In situations where there is a threat of inundation and the emergency is great and urgent and neither officer in-charge or tehsildar of taluq is available, the village head shall call upon the adult male members of the village and where ever necessary he may call upon adult male members from adjoining villages to cooperate in work for prevention of breach of embankments made by canals, tanks or rivers. The persons so called upon in such situations shall not work free of cost and will be remunerated under section 3 of the Act. The remuneration shall be equal to highest remuneration paid in of works of similar nature and incase of night shifts the remuneration shall double. The payment so made shall be through public treasury under section 4 of the Act. Incase the persons employed under the Act work for a private person the remuneration paid to them shall be recoverable from the employer of such persons.

Incase a person called in such situation either by officer in-charge, tehsildar or village head refuses to contribute he is liable to be punished under section 2 of the Act with imprisonment of one month or with fine of rupees one hundred or with both. Jurisdiction in such matters shall lie before Magistrate.

Section 5 of the Act, the officer in-charge shall take all necessary steps in absence of the officer in-charge the tehsildar and in his absence the village head shall do all that is necessary in furtherance of prevention of inundation. They incase of any emergency make requisition over material such as mud, stone, wood, leaves, gunny, bamboos necessary to prevent and make repairs on the embankments. Incase of unavailability they shall seize, cut down such material. The materials so requisitioned shall be paid for from public treasury at the highest price for which the same can be sold, thus compensating the person from whom the material is either requisitioned or cut down. Every person who owns a land where means of irrigation and drainage work is carried out incase of an order from officer in-charge, tehsildar or village head shall carry out works of repair under sub section (1) of section 6. Such person shall be given a notice in writing and such notice shall be published on the notice board of the office tehsildar or revenue officer. The notice shall also contain the names of the persons who shall work for repairing such an embankment.

The act precisely applies in situations of inundation and warrants all necessary steps be taken to prevent any disaster caused by overflowing of an embankment. That since the act is a social act the person from the village in danger along with people from neighbouring village shall contribute in prevention of such inundation.

by Vibhuti Nakta