On August 20, 1917, the British Government declared, for the first time, that its objective was the gradual introduction of responsible government in India.
The Government of India Act of 1919 was thus enacted, which came into force in 1921. This Act is also known as Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (Montagu was the Secretary of State for India and Lord Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India).
Features of the Act
- It relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects. The central and provincial legislatures were authorised to make laws on their respective list of subjects. However, the structure of government continued to be centralised and unitary.
- It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts—transferred and reserved. The transferred subjects were to be administered by the governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative Council. The reserved subjects, on the other hand, were to be administered by the governor and his executive council without being responsible to the legislative Council. This dual scheme of governance was known as ‘dyarchy’—a term derived from the Greek word di-arche which means double rule. However, this experiment was largely unsuccessful.
- It introduced, for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Thus, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House (Council of State) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). The majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election.
- It required that the three of the six members of the Viceroy’s executive Council (other than the commander-in-chief) were to be Indian.
- It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
- It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education.
- It created a new office of the High Commissioner for India in London and transferred to him some of the functions hitherto performed by the Secretary of State for India.
- It provided for the establishment of a public service commission. Hence, a Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.
- It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.
- It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to inquire into and report on its working after ten years of its coming into force.
In November 1927 itself (i.e., 2 years before the schedule), the British Government announced the appointment a seven- member statutory commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon to report on the condition of India under its new Constitution. All the members of the commission were British and hence, all the parties boycotted the commission.
The commission submitted its report in 1930 and recommended the abolition of dyarchy, extension of responsible government in the provinces, establishment of a federation of British India and princely states, continuation of communal electorate and so on.
To consider the proposals of the commission, the British Government convened three round table conferences of the representatives of the British Government, British India and Indian princely states. On the basis of these discussions, a ‘White Paper on Consitutional Reforms’ was prepared and submitted for the consideration of the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament. The recommendations of this committee were incorporated (with certain changes) in the next Government of Inida Act of 1935.
In August 1932, Ramsay MacDonald, the British Prime Minister, announced a scheme of representation of the minorities, which came to be known as the Communal Award.
The award not only continued separate electorates for the Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans but also extended it to the depressed classes (scheduled castes). Gandhiji was distressed over this extension of the principle of communal representation to the depressed classes and undertook fast unto death in Yeravada Jail (Poona) to get the award modified. At last, there was an agreement between the leaders of the Congress and the depressed classes.
The agreement, known as Poona Pact, retained the Hindu joint electorate and gave reserved seats to the depressed classes. Government of India Act of 1935.