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Volume 413: debated on Thursday 23 August 1945

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Eastern Group Supply Council


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he will state the future arrangements in connection with the operations hitherto conducted by the Delhi Conference; and particularly about such operations as are not to be transferred to a disposals board.

I assume that the operations referred to by the hon. and gallant Member are those of the Eastern Group Supply Council. This Council was set up following the Eastern Group Supply Conference held at Delhi in November, 1940, to ensure the fullest use for war purposes of the productive resources of Eastern Group countries. I am afraid that it is too early to say what the future of the Council will be. None of its functions are to be transferred to the Government of India Disposals Board.

Prisons (Punishments)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he has investigated the allegations made to him that cruel punishments are being perpetrated in Indian prisons, especially at Midnapore, Dacca and the Andamans; under what conditions and with what precautions against excess, corporal punishment is permitted in Indian prisons; to what extent the British authorities in India control the regulations for prison management and discipline in Bengal or in any other Indian Provinces where Provincial Governments are operating; and, where Provincial Governments are suspended, what precautions are taken against excessive punishments.

As my reply is somewhat long I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the Official Report.

Will the Minister endeavour to see that his reply gets good publicity, especially abroad, in view of the fact that these very specific charges are being made in a way that makes it quite obviously intended to be assumed that British officials are responsible, and that the charges are likely to do considerable harm in the United States?

In view of the nature of the reply, I think the hon. Lady may take it that it will receive fairly wide publicity.

Following is the statement:

My Noble Friend has made inquiries of the authorities in India as to the allegations referred to in the hon. Member's question and in other recent allegations in the Press. He is informed that there is no foundation whatever for the allegations that torture was used in the Andaman Islands, that prisoners are kept in cells 6 ft. by 4 ft. and deprived of water and that a particular prisoner was made to sit on blocks of ice. As regards the alleged incident in Midnapore, the Government of Bengal have reported that the allegations relate to the period 1930–32, at a time when there was widespread disorder and terrorism. Jails became overcrowded with this new type of prisoner, creating unusual difficulties of administration and resort was sometimes had to exceptional measures to maintain order, including flogging. The description of the scene during such happenings in the allegations to which the hon. Member refers is, I am advised, completely untrue. As regards the two alleged incidents in the prison at Dacca, these also occurred during the period 1930–32 following terrorist and communal disturbances. I am awaiting a further report from the Government of Bengal in regard to them.

2. In Indian prisons whipping may only be inflicted for serious jail offences such as mutiny. In Midnapore Central Jail, for instance, with an average population of over 1,000, there has been no case of whipping since 1938. This punishment may be inflicted in Bengal Jails only for grave breaches of discipline such as mutiny, serious assaults on officials, etc., and the approval of the Government is necessary in the case of certain classes of prisoners, and the approval of a local committee consisting of the District Magistrate and two non-official visitors in the case of the others. This punishment is not awarded unless the prisoner is medically fit, and a medical officer is present during the execution of the sentence, so that he may curtail it if necessary in the interest of the prisoner's health. The description of the scene during such happenings is, I am advised, completely untrue.

3. The Central and Provincial Governments in India have never tolerated the use of third degree methods in any shape or form and have never hesitated to take disciplinary action against any of their officers who exceeded their instructions.

4. Under the Government of India Act, 1935, prison administration is entrusted solely to Provincial Governments who are responsible to the Provincial Legislatures, and the ultimate control of the regulations for prison management and discipline in the Provincial prisons is therefore in Indian hands. Where these Governments are suspended, however, under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, their responsibilities are assumed by the Provincial Governors, who in this capacity are under the superintendence of the Governor-General. Unofficial jail visitors are permitted to visit the prisoner and complaints can be made to them by prisoners.

5. In general I feel that the hon. Member will appreciate the difficulty of the Indian Government in having to investigate incidents which are alleged to have taken place thirteen to fifteen years ago.

Requisitioned Property


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India to what extent houses and other buildings are requisitioned for military purposes without the consent of Provincial Governments or local municipal authorities; approximately how many such buildings have been requisitioned; and, in view of overcrowding, what progress is being made in derequisitioning.

I am asking the Government of India for a report and will communicate with my hon. Friend when I receive it.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the statements have always been made by responsible persons who were about to be evicted and that in many cases owing to this requisitioning large numbers are likely to be evicted? Will he see that some speedy action is taken in the matter?

The request has already gone. I think my hon. Friend may take it that no time will be lost in dealing with the matter.

Officers (War Gratuities)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India why officers discharged in India last year are still waiting for their gratuities, and more particularly, Major Forbes-Leith, details of whose case have previously been sent to him.

The Government of India are adopting similar arrangements to those of the United Kingdom Government for the payment of war gratuities. In this connection I would refer the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the reply given on 21st August by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to the question by the hon. Member for West Harrow (Mr. Bower).

Newspaper "National Herald" (Prohibition)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether the prohibition in respect of the publication of the daily newspaper, "National Herald," will now be withdrawn, the printing plant restored, and compensation for damage and loss made to the owners.

This is a matter for the authorities in India; but I am ascertaining the facts from them and will inform the hon. Member of the result.

Will the Minister impress upon the Government of India that now the war is over and there is no danger in regard to security, it is high time a fair measure of freedom was extended to India?

I think my hon. Friend may take it that the Government of India will take all relevant considerations into account.

Political Prisoners


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will take steps to release Sibnath Banerji, member of the Legislative Assembly of Bengal, to enable him to attend the session of the I.L.O. in Europe as an adviser delegate, to which position he has been elected by the All-India T.U.C.


asked the. Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will make a statement about the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of the prohibitory orders in respect of political organisations, the right of assembly and of the movements of persons within British India.

These matters are under consideration by my Noble Friend and I regret that I am not at present in a position to make a statement on them.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he is going to have a busy time making these inquiries?

Political Situation


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he has considered the proposal recently made by Mr. Rajagopalachari, former Premier of Madras, for effecting an end to the deadlock in India; and whether he has any statement to make.

Yes, Sir. But I regret that I have no statement to make at present.

Is the Minister aware of the very serious economic situation in India, causing many thousands to die, and the urgency of dealing with this position in India as soon as possible?

I think my hon. Friend will find, if he looks into it, that his supplementary question has no reference to the proposal to which he refers in his Question.

Is it not a fact that this is only one of the scores of proposals put forward by people who have no claim to speak for the whole of India, and that each one is repudiated either by Congress ox by the Moslem League?

A good many proposals have been put forward, and I thank it will be the desire of His Majesty's Government to consider any proposals put forward by responsible people.

Provincial Legislatures (Elections)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he will state, approximately, when elections for the Provincial Governments will take place; whether this is to be preceded by a full restoration of civil liberty regarding meetings and the Press; and whether franchise disqualification arising from having suffered a term of imprisonment will be withdrawn.

Elections to the Provincial Legislatures will be held during the coming cold weather, and should be completed by early next April. The matters raised in the second and third parts of the Question are under consideration, and I hope that by the time the House reassembles I shall be able to give a more definite reply.

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate the very urgent need of adequate time both to enable public opinion to be properly informed about various issues and to enable those who have been in prison until now to have some voice in the decisions of the electorate?

I can assure the House that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government that the forthcoming elections shall be held under conditions of the greatest possible freedom.