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Great Indian Peninsula Railway (Dispute)

Volume 236: debated on Monday 17 March 1930

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asked the Secretary of State for India whether he can make any statement to the House regarding the strike on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway; whether he will say how long the strike has lasted, how many men have been out on strike, and what are the demands of the strikers; whether he is aware that convicts from Bombay gaol have been employed as strike breakers; and whether other services besides the railway service have been affected?

This strike began on 4th February. My latest information is that approximately 27,500 men are involved. Fourteen convicts have been employed on sanitary work and 14 on loading and unloading goods. I am ascertaining the precise circumstances. No other services save the railway are affected. The Government of India's communique of 7th February, which was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 24th February, dealt with the demands of the men, which were under sympathetic consideration when the strike was actually called. I may add that the Commerce Member of the Viceroy's Council has been in communication with the All-India Railway Federation in connection with the matter.

May I assume that the influence of the Government will be used to prevent the unwilling use of convicts on the work described?

Yes, I have stated the facts as I have learned them, and my hon. Friend will notice that in 14 cases it was a matter of sanitary necessity. I will make full inquiry and let him know.

Yes, but there are 14 other cases in which it was not a matter of sanitary necessity, and, in either event, what right have the Government of India to conscript the services of convicts who may be in prison for offences and who are not part of the regular strike breaking force?

It is precisely because the circumstances are not clear from the telegrams I have received that I have offered, very willingly, to make fresh inquiries.

Is not this a matter for the Government of India, not for the Government of this country?

The noble Lord knows that I make inquiries through the Central Government of India; and he knows also that this House takes a constant and proper interest in matters of this kind.

The right hon. Gentleman also knows that it has been constantly laid down that the Secretary of State should not interfere with the Presidency or Provincial Governments.

Is it not the fact that all these people are British subjects, and that, if they cannot be protected by the Indian Government, the British Parliament must protect them?


asked the Secretary of State for India whether he has any information with regard to the passive resistance at the Great India Peninsula Railway works at Byculla; whether he is aware that this form of passive resistance is due to the Gandhi programme of civil disobedience; and how many casualties have occurred?

I have no information except what has appeared in the Press. I have not heard of any casualties.