Government Of India Act 1919

Government Of India Act 1919 – Background

The Government of India Act 1919 also known as the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms was enacted in the British Parliament for a variety of reasons. After the implementation of the Morley Minto Reforms or the Indian Councils Act 1909, a plethora of events, circumstances and conditions occurred that necessitated the enactment of the Government of India Act 1919. These can be seen as:

  • Even though the Muslims were given separate electorates in the Morley Minto Reforms, they were disenchanted with the government on the issues of conditions of founding the Muslim University at Aligarh and the annulment of Partition of Bengal in 1911 along with the shifting of capital to Delhi.
  • British hostility towards Turkey and Turco-Italian war in 1910-11 did not augur well with the Muslims. Moreover the Balkan wars in 1912-13 was seen by Muslims as a conspiracy of Christians against Muslims.
  • Repressive laws were passed to control the disenchantment of Indians against the Morley Minto Reforms. These laws were:
    • Indian Press Act 1910
    • Seditious Meetings Act 1911
    • Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 1913
    • Defense of India Act 1915
  • Congress learnt a lesson from the Surat Split of 1907 and readmitted the extremists in the Lucknow session in 1916.
  • The Lucknow session also witnessed the patch up between Congress and the Muslim League.
  • Indian Leaders themselves formulated various schemes for reforms. In 1916 Jinnah, Srinivas Shastri and Surendranath Bannerjee submitted a memorandum demanding Self Government in the Central Legislative Assembly.
  • Thus under these circumstances the introduction of reforms did not warrant any further delay. 
  • Lord Montagu delivered a historic statement in the House of Commons.

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Government Of India Act 1919
Government of India Act 1919

Lord Montagu’s Statement

 On 20th August 1917, Lord Montagu, the new Secretary of State made a historic statement in the House of Commons regarding the long term goal of the British Government in India. He announced that:

    “The policy of His Majesty’s Government is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration and gradual development of self governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”.

 The Secretary of State came to India after the announcement and discussed the scheme of reforms with Lord Chelmsford, Indian leaders and some eminent British Civil Servants. A committee was appointed composed of the Earl of Donoughmore, Sir William Duke, Charles Robert and Bhupendranath Basu to prepare a draft of the reform scheme. The draft was published in July 1918 and was popularly known as the Montford Report. On the basis of this report the Government of India Act 1919 was drafted and later passed in the British Parliament.

Provisions Of Government Of India Act 1919

Changes In The Home Government

  • As per the Government of India Act 1919, the salary of the Secretary of State was now to be paid by the British Exchequer and not out of Indian revenues.
  • The control of the Secretary of State was reduced in the Provincial sphere for Transferred subjects. But his control over the Central Government was kept intact.
  • The reduction in the powers of the Secretary of State was done in response to the resolution passed by the Congress that India must be governed from Delhi and Shimla not from Whitehall or Downing street.
  • A new post of High Commissioner for India was created who was to be paid by the Government of India. 
  • Some of the functions of the Secretary of State were transferred to the High Commissioner for India.
  • The High Commissioner for India was to act as an agent of the Viceroy. He was made in charge of the Stores Department, the Indian Students department etc. 

Executive Side Changes In Government Of India

  • The number of Indians was increased in the Governor General’s Executive Council. Out of 8 members, 3 were to be Indians.
  • Indian members were assigned departments like Law, Education, Labor, Health and Industry.
  • The Government of India Act 1919 divided subjects into Central and Provincial List.
  • Central list subjects were to be administered by the Governor General in Council.
  • Subjects of national importance such as Defense, Foreign Affairs, Political Relations, Post and Telegraph, Communications, Railways, Civil and Criminal Law and procedure were included in the Central List.
  • Subjects like Education, Local Self Government, Public Health, Land Revenue Administration, Medical Administration, Water Supply, Law and Order, Agriculture and Famine Relief etc. were included in the Provincial List.
  • Any residuary subject not mentioned in the lists was a Central subject.

Legislative Side Changes In Government Of India

Bicameral Legislature was set up at the Centre. The two houses were called ‘Council of State’ and ‘Central Legislative Assembly’.

Council Of State

  • The Council of State consisted of 60 members and was called the ‘Upper House’. Out of 60 members 26 were to be nominated by the Governor General and 34 were to be elected. Thus there was an elected majority.
  • Every member of the Upper House was to have a tenure of 5 years.
  • Its President was nominated by the Governor General and its members were called “Honourable”.
  • The Governor General could address, summon, prorogue or dissolve the house.
  • Women were not entitled to become members of the house.
  • The franchise was extremely limited with a lot of conditions to be eligible to vote. Those entitled to vote must have paid an income tax of Rs.10000 or an annual land rent of Rs. 750. Other qualifications included a position on the Senate of a University or ex Legislative Council member or a Title holder etc.
  • Thus out of the 24 Crore population only 17364 were qualified to vote.

Central Legislative Assembly

  • Was called ‘Lower House’ and consisted of 145 members. Of these 41 were to be nominated by the Governor General and 104 were to be elected.
  • The life of the assembly was 3 years. Thus here the members did not individually have a fixed tenure and their tenure depended upon the life of the assembly.
  • Here also the franchise was limited but not as much compared to the Council Of State.
  • The qualification was that a person must be an owner or an occupant of a house having an annual rental value of Rs. 180, or must be a Municipal tax payer of Rs.15 a year. Apart from these there were a few more qualifications.
  • The distribution of seats in the Provinces was not based on population but on the basis of importance. E.g. Punjab was allotted more importance because of its military importance whereas Bombay and Madras were granted more seats because of their commercial importance.

Powers Of Central Legislatures

  • The Central Legislature as per Government of India Act 1919 could legislate for the whole of India.
  • Pre-existing laws could be amended or repealed.
  • Members could move resolutions or motions for the adjournment of the house or take up urgent and pressing questions of public importance on priority.
  • Questions, supplementary questions and short notice questions could be asked.
  • Freedom of speech and expression was enjoyed by the members.
  • Governor General’s sanction was required for certain bills before introduction. E.g. repealing a law or an ordinance, Foreign relations or relations with Princely States, Public Debt, Public revenue or Religious affairs.
  • The Governor General could also prevent a bill from consideration on the grounds of threats to security to British India or any part thereof.
  • The Governor General could issue ordinances in cases of emergency. He could also enact laws subject to sanction by the Crown.
  • Any bill to become an act required the assent of the Governor General.
  • For the budget the Government of India Act 1919 provided that not all items would be votable. Some items could only be discussed.
  • Some members of the legislature were put on the Standing Committees such as Public Accounts and Finance.

Government Of India Act 1919 – Changes In The Provinces

Changes On The Executive Side

  • A system of Dyarchy was introduced in the Provinces.
  • Under this system the Provincial subjects were divided into Reserved and Transferred subjects.
  • Reserved Subjects: They were administered by the Governor along with an Executive Council nominated by him. The executive council was not responsible to the Legislature.
    • All key subjects like Land Revenue, Finance, Justice, Police, Famine Relief etc. were under the Reserved List.
    • These departments were subject to supervision, control and direction of the Governor General and the Secretary of State.
  • Transferred Subjects: These were administered by the Governor with the assistance of ministers appointed by him from the elected members. The ministers were responsible to the Legislature.
    • The transferred subjects included Education, Agriculture, Libraries, Public Health and Sanitation, Fisheries, Co-operative Societies, Public Works, Excise etc.
    • The Governor dealt with each minister individually and there was no system of Cabinet meetings.

Changes On The Legislative Side

  • Size of the Legislative Council was increased with varying members in Provinces.
  • 70% of the total members in the Provincial Councils were to be elected.
  • 20% were to be officials and 10% were to be nominated non-officials.
  • Elected members would come from direct elections.
  • The franchise was limited as there were high property qualifications, communal and class electorates and special weightage to certain communities was allotted.
  • The members enjoyed the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Members had a right to ask questions and supplementaries, initiate legislation.
  • Members had the right to reject the Budget but the Governor had the power to restore it.
  • No bills could become acts without the assent of the Governor.

Drawbacks Of Government Of India Act 1919

Central Side

  • Indian members in the Governor General’s Executive Council were given insignificant departments. They ended up as yes men of the Viceroy.
  • The division of subjects in Central and Provincial subjects were not clear cut. Provincial subjects were provincial in terms of administration but not in terms of legislation.
  • The Governor General remained a keystone in the grand administrative set up of British India and  exercised full control over the councilors.
  • No Confidence motion could not be passed i.e. the executive was irremovable.

Provincial Side

  • Since the reserved and the transferred subjects were inseparable on many accounts, the practicality of smooth functioning was compromised.
  • Many times it was difficult for the authorities to decide whether a particular matter fell under the purview of Reserved subjects or transferred subjects.
  • Constant friction between the ministers who were responsible to the legislature and the Executive Councillors who belonged to the bureaucracy occurred. Many times they condemned each other in public.
  • Though a minister was responsible to the legislature, he ultimately remained in office at the mercy of the Governor. Thus the ministers were reduced to glorified secretaries.
  • The principle of joint responsibility of the ministers was never encouraged by the Governors. 
  • In many cases the Governors did not consult the ministers while making policy decisions on their respective departments.
  • Though the ministers were Indians, their secretaries belonged to the Indian Civil Service and mostly British. These secretaries had private meetings with the Governors for policy decisions of their departments.
  • The members of Civil Service were not under the control of the ministers. Their appointments, dismissal, suspension, salaries and transfers were under the control of the Secretary of State in London. Thus they never cared for the ministers.

Conclusion On Government of India Act 1919

 The Government of India Act 1919 failed to satisfy Indian aspirations. The promise of self governing institutions as an integral part of the British empire was not fulfilled. At the center there was no provision for a responsible government. At provincial level Dyarchy was introduced which failed to deliver a real responsible government in the hands of Indians. The Indian National Congress demanded dyarchy at the Center and only then would dyarchy be tolerated at the provinces. Moreover the concept of dyarchy as such was foredoomed to failure because of its complex confused and illogical principles.

 The Government of India Act 1919 provided no changes in the alien despot nature of the British Rule which started with the Government of India Act 1858 introduced after the Revolt of 1857. In terms of legislative development it came a long way since the introduction of Indian Councils Act 1861.

See Also

Charter Act 1853

Short Note On Revolt Of 1857

Government of India Act 1858

Indian Councils Act 1861

Morley Minto Reforms

FAQs On Government Of India Act 1919

What is the purpose of Government of India Act 1919?

The purpose of Government of India Act 1919 was to increase association of Indians in administration. The other reason was to rally the moderates and wean them away from the Swadeshi movement.

What was the Government of India Act 1919 based on?

The Government of India Act 1919 was based on the scheme suggested by the Secretary of State Lord Montagu and the Governor General of India Lord Minto. They appointed a committee to draft the proposal which included 1 Indian as well. After approval of the cabinet, these proposals were introduced in the Parliament in the form of a bill. After passing it became the Government of India Act 1919. The act is also popularly known as the Montford Reforms.

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