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Report No. 42

Chapter 19

Criminal Breach of Contracts of Service

19.1. History of Chapter.-

This chapter, which has now got reduced from its original three sections to one, is itself a relic of the last century when it was considered necessary and proper to safeguard contracts of service with a penal provision for breaches. An old Act of 1859 provided "for the punishment of breaches of contract by artificers, workmen and labourers", who, having received money in advance on account of work which they had contracted to perform, refused to perform the work.

Three special cases were considered serious enough to be included in the Penal Code. One was breach of contract of service during a voyage or journey and another was breach of contract to serve at a distant place to which the servant was conveyed at the master's expense. These two were made punishable as offences by section 490 and section 492, respectively. All these oppressive enactments were repealed in 1925 by the Workmen's Breach of Contract (Repealing) Act, 1925.

19.2. Repeal of section 491 recommended.-

The surviving section 491 is perhaps not altogether on a par with the two repealed sections. It may be regarded as having some ethical justification in that the person affected by the breach of contract is, because of youth, unsoundness of mind, disease of bodily weakness, in a helpless condition. By failing to look after such persons after having agreed to do so, an offender may be causing serious harm to the health of the helpless individual.

However, the offence itself is treated as trivial and made punishable with a small fine not exceeding Rs. 200, or in a very bad case, with a short term of imprisonment not exceeding three months. It is noticed that in recent times there have been no complaints under this section. We consider, therefore, that the practical utility of the section is negligible and that it is not necessary to retain it in the Penal Code. The whole Chapter may be repealed.

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