Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Tribute to a leader of the masses

Dr B R Ambedkar’s contributions towards modernizing India 

Part -II

Atulkrishna Biswas

“Dr Ambedkar is my father in economics. His contribution in the field of economicsis marvellous and will be remembered forever...!”- -Amartya Sen,  Nobel laureate

Bengali intellectual class have shown alacrity to adopt and/or embrace any outsider or even foreigner who showed affinity or allegiance to them at some stage of their life. This is a striking failure. Let me cite two magnificent illustrations when they behaved strangely. 

Dr. Ambedkar was elected in 1946 from to the Constituent Assembly Jessore-Khulna constituency of united Bengal marginalizing powerful Congress efforts. And soon enough he became the Father of the Indian Constitution, but nonetheless he remained a dalit leader, unwelcome to the bhadralok in general. Jaipal Singh Munda, the other, was the architect of winning the first Olympic Gold medal from Amsterdam in 1928 for India. He had married Tara Winfrey Majumdar. Tara was the granddaughter of W. C. Bonnerjee, the first and founder President of Indian National Congress in 1885. Jaipal resigned from ICS under probation in England, when he was refused leave of absence for playing as Captain of Indian Hockey in Amsterdam. He was the guiding spirit and leading light of tribal aspiration as their leader and dreamer of tribal state Jharkhand. The voluble Bengali did not claim that their grandson-in- law was India’s, nay Asia’s, first Olympic Gold medal winner.     

The name of Dr. Ambedkar was never uttered by the dictators of the Bengali proletariat, who ignominiously perpetuated their rule with iron hand for almost four decades. And at the end their countless misdeeds and brutal misadventures uprooted and erased their own record. Bengalis could have claimed that their representative in the Parliament had the honour of writing almost single handed the Constitution of Independent. They never did so. Now Jaipal is a tribal and Ambedkar an untouchable. They never belonged to their class, bhadralok. What all Ambedkar did as the Member of Labour in Viceroy’s Executive Council for the working classes in five years was envy to the while-collar armed chair revolutionaries for their entire four decades of rule.      

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s approach towards welfare of working classes, as Labour Member of Viceroy of India was comprehensive. He appointed a Labour Investigation Committee, on February 12, 1944, headed by D. V. Rege, ICS, for fact finding with respect to wages and earnings, employment, housing and social conditions of labour in 38 selected industries. Under the net of investigation were brought the following:

Mining—Coal, Manganese, Gold, Mica, Iron Ore and Salt:
Plantations---Tea, Coffee and Rubber:
Factories—Cotton, Jute, Silk, Woollen, Mineral Oil, Dockyard, Engineering, Cement, Matches, Paper, Carpet weaving, Coirmatting, Tanneries and Leather Goods Manufacture, Potteries, Printing Presses, Glass Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works, Shellac, Bidi-making, Mica Splitting, Sugar, Cotton, Ginning and Baling and Rice Mills;
Transport—Tramways and Buses and Non-gazetted Railway Staff; and
Other Types—Port Labour, Municipal Labour, Central P.W.D., and Rickshaw Pullers. We cannot fail to notice that even the rickshaw pullers did not escape attention of the Viceroy’s Labour Member in the Executive Council.

On April 6, 1946 the Labour Member laid on Table of the House twenty reports of the  aforesaid Labour Investigation Committee into conditions of labour in the silk industry, cement industry, carpet-weaving, iron ore industry, coir mat and matting industry, mica mine and mica manufacturing industry, dockyards, shellac industry, rickshaw pullers, rice mills, glass industry, bidi, cigar and cigarette industries, plantations, gola mining industry, potteries, chemical industry, manganese mining industry, mineral oil industry, woollen textile industry and paper mill industry.  

Other Members drafted for the Labour Investigation Committee were S. R. Deshpande, Dr. Ahmad Mukhtar and Prof. B. P. Adarkar. [1] Observing aptly, The Indian Information hoped that reports containing two million words, embracing every aspect of working classes was rightly expected “to help the future planning of social security for labour and legislation by the Government.” [2]

To mark the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, the Labour Minister of India highlighting some critical initiatives Labour Member took towards national reconstruction, said,

Dr. Ambedkar while working as labour minister had initiated and framed several laws for employment security, wage security and social security for the work force in India. Some of the major initiatives were; Mines Maternity Benefit Act; women Labour Welfare Fund, Women and Child Labour Protection Act, Indian Factory Act, National Employment Agency, Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund, Employees State Insurance and Tripartite Labour Council, etc.-

Now I come to details of Labour Welfare measures: The Employee's State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) which is one of the premiere health and insurance corporation for the organized labour and which is providing medical health and disability benefits of the workers had been enacted way back in 1942 by Dr. B R Ambedkar. [3]

Despite the stated position, we find widespread misinformation campaigns have been carried out and an impression created by influential quarters that Prof. B. P. Adarkar was the architect of the Employees State Insurance Scheme in India though he was one of the members of the Labour Investigation Committee. This is another attempt at piracy of Dr Ambedkar’s achievement to appease some section without justification or basis.  

Government of India decided to give scholarship during 1946-47 for courses as below to students belonging to scheduled castes:

  1. Intermediate with Science, (2) B. Sc. (Pass or Honours), (3) M. Sc., (4) Engineering, (5) Technology, (6) Medical, (7) Agriculture, (8) Teacher’s Training and (9) Shorthand and Typewriting. For shorthand training every student got stipend at rate of Rs. 20 a month. [4] 

Scheduled caste women students with Arts in Intermediate and Graduate courses were also eligible with undertaking to pursue Teacher’s Training courses after their courses of study were completed. If they did not pursue their training course, they were under obligation to refund the scholarship. 

By a Resolution published in the Gazette of India of June 15, 1946, the Government of India increased the reservation in favour of Scheduled Castes of vacancies to be filled by direct recruitment in the Central Services from 8⅓  per cent to 12½ per cent, so as to bring it in accord with the population ratio. [5]  These benefits were sanctioned at the initiatives of Dr. B R Ambedkar.

Some pioneering labour welfare measures
Dr. Ambedkar devoted two days, December 9 and 10, 1943 respectively to visit Dhanbad in Bihar and Raniganj, in Burdwan [Bengal]---then popularly called Ruhr of India referring to Germany’s rich coal-belts. In both these places, the 50-year old Labour Member, donning “safety cap” on head went 400 feet underground and inspected coalmine operations. He saw the miners--- men and women---working there. He also visited the labour quarters and familiarized himself with their standard of life. The kind of rooms in their occupation along with its furniture, utensils, washrooms, ventilation, etc. did not escape his notice. A coalminer, he found, allowed his domesticated cow, to share his small veranda.

Next year on 29 April, he had visited Koderma subdivision in Hazaribagh district, Bihar and addressed meeting of the Mica Mines Council. Such field visits enriched his vision and perception about the working classes. In Koderma too, he went 400 ft underground ‘by means of a ladder’ to inspect working of mica mine.[6] This concern for the working classes, particularly in the coal mines, manifested itself in the Coalmines Labour Welfare Ordinance in 1944, wrote one observer. [7]

Tribal women’s great manual dexterity : Secret of Bihar mica’s international pre-eminence    

Ambedkar stated that India was the world’s largest producer of mica---80% of which was yielded by two districts, Hazaribagh and Gaya of Bihar whereas the balance came from Nellore of Madras, and Tonk State and Ajmer-Merwara in Rajputana. India’s  “pre-eminence in the world’s markets”,  recorded he, “is due largely to the excellent quality of the so-called “Bengal ruby “ mica of Bihar, but also to the great manual dexterity of the aboriginals, mainly women, who trim and split the mica with crude soft-iron sickles (or shears in Nellore. ” [8] Mica has been used in India for centuries for decorative and medicinal purposes.

The economist’s unrestrained conscience dictated his perception emphatically that “if Government was to help the industry it would not allow the industry to exploit labour. If this was true it was not a matter of compliment either to the industry or to labour. If Government was to intervene or to take measures in order to stabilise the industry, Government would expect the industry to safeguard the interests of labour.” [9] This sounds like the command of a patriot; whose approach and outlook are distinctive. Many argue India as the comparatively better place for industry because of availability of cheap labour. The capitalists developed vested interests in keeping Indian labour illiterate and ignorant to be available for exploitation at comparatively cheap cost.    

Some of Ambedkar’s reforms of labour laws as Member [Labour], Executive Council were pioneering.

1] He reduced the working hours in factories and shops from 14 hours to eight hours with a total of 48 hours a week. This enhanced the production of the workers and led to creation of more employment opportunities. [10]

[2] Law enacted by Ambedkar entitled labourers, irrespective of sex, equal pay for equal work.

[3] He created the mechanism for Plenary Labour Conference, Standing Labour Committee and Tripartite Labour Conference towards resolution of disputes between Management and labourers.

[4] He passed law mandating the management for compulsory recognition of labour union with certain stipulations. Failure to comply the law entailed punishment of the offender.  

[5] He restored ban on employment of women miners underground for lifting coal.

[6] Dr. Ambedkar initiated measures for 8 weeks---four weeks pre-natal and 4 weeks post- delivery---of maternity leave for women labourers @ 8 annas.

[7] On May 7 and 8, 1943, Dr Ambedkar addressed a meeting Bombay that favoured the scheme for establishing employment exchanges for skilled and semi-skilled personnel benefitting both the employment seekers and employers to a large extent.[11]  He had inspected Employment Exchange at Calcutta and examined its activities.

India at the moment can boast of over 900 Employment Exchanges. 

Holidays with Pay was made an entitlement for Factory Workers by Dr. Ambedkar. [12]

Mica Labour Welfare Fund Act 1946 rendered the following benefits to mica mines labour:

 (i) the improvement of public health and sanitation, the prevention of disease, and the provision and improvement of medical facilities,
(ii) the provision and improvement of water supplies and facilities for washing,
(iii) the provision and improvement of educational facilities,
(iv) the improvement of standards of living, including housing and nutrition, the amelioration of social conditions and the provision of recreational facilities,
(v) the provision of transport to and from work,
[13][(vi) the provision of family welfare, including family planning education and services.

Reserve Bank of India: Conceptualized by Dr. B R Ambedkar

Before we conclude, it is appropriate to state that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s role in establishment of India’s Central Bank. A Central Bank commonly known as a financial institution enjoying privileged control over the production and distribution of money and credit for a nation. It is bankers’ bank and the banker to the Government. In modern economies, the central bank is usually responsible for the formulation of monetary policy and the regulation of member banks. Till 1930’s India did not have her Central Bank. In 1925 the Royal Commission on Indian Currency & Finance, also called Hilton Young Commission after its Chairman visited India. On the banking, Dr Ambedkar was a prominent scholar who was consulted and examined by the Commission at great length. His dissertation "The Problems of The Rupee and Its Origin and Its Solution" was published in 1923 from London, when its author was just 30-year old.

Dr. Ambedkar’s book occupied the epicentre of attention of the Royal Commission. Ultimately “the Reserve Bank of India was conceptualized based on the guidelines presented by Dr. Ambedkar to the "Royal Commission on Indian Currency & Finance” in 1925. Commission members found Dr. Ambedkar’s book "The Problem of the Rupee- Its Problems and Its Solution” an invaluable reference tool and the Central Legislative Assembly eventually passed these guidelines as the RBI Act 1934.” [14] And India’s Reserve Bank came into existence on April 1, 1935. According to preamble, the ambit of activities of the RBI Act are: -

"to regulate the issue of Bank notes and keeping of reserves with a view to securing monetary stability in India and generally to operate the currency and credit system of the country to its advantage; to have a modern monetary policy framework to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex economy, to maintain price stability while keeping in mind the objective of growth."

Too stupendous a mark for a man of 41 year to make on the financial institution that occupies the pinnacle of stature in nation’s life! To make it a public knowledge and in recognition of his achievement, life size statute of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, placed prominently at the entry of the buildings housing Reserve Bank of India in every state as also national capital would be a befitting memorial to this great philosopher and author.   


1. Indian Information, April 15, 1946, p. 568.
2. Writings & Speeches of Dr. B R Ambedkar, Vol. 10, p. 394.
3. Speech delivered by Bandaru Dattatreya in the Lok Sabha to mark the 125th Anniversary of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
4. Indian Information, March 15, 1946, p. 310.
5. Writings & Speeches of Dr B R Ambedkar, Vol. 10, Government of Maharashtra, p. 398.
6. Ibid., p. 175.
7. Ibid., pp. viii-ix.
8. Ibid., p. 176.
9. Ibid., 173.
10. Speech by the president of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee delivering Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture 2014 on ‘vision of India in 21st century, as envisaged by Dr. Ambedkar’ by Press Information Bureau
Government of India, President's Secretariat, 04-September-2014.
11. Indian Information, June 1, 1943, quoted in Writings and Speeches of Dr B R Ambedkar, Vol. 10, Government of Maharashtra, p. 78.
12. Legislative Assembly Debates (Central), Vol. IV, 1st Nov. 1944, pp. 89-91.
13. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, President's Secretariat, 04-September-2014, op. cit.
14. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, President's Secretariat, 04-September-2014, op. cit.

Dr. Atulkrishna Biswas, the writer, a social anthropologist and analyst, is retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

Back to Home Page

Apr 15, 2020

Dr. Atulkrishna Biswas

Your Comment if any