The Government of India Act 1919, also known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, was a landmark piece of legislation enacted by the British Parliament. It was introduced by Edwin Samuel Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, and Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India.
The act aimed to increase Indian participation in governance and bring about constitutional reforms in British India, paving the way for eventual self-rule. The legislation established a bicameral legislature, introduced the system of dyarchy in provinces, and expanded the franchise. It became a foundation for future constitutional developments in India, including the Government of India Act 1935.
What will you learn here?
In this guide, you will learn about the background and context in which the Government of India Act, 1919 was enacted, the key provisions and features of the Act, and its impact on Indian governance and politics. Additionally, this guide will explore the criticisms of the Act and its limitations.
How will it help in UPSC?
For anyone preparing for the CSE, especially the IAS examination, understanding the Government of India Act, 1919 is important as it forms a significant part of Indian history and governance. The provisions and features of the Act, as well as its criticisms, are often asked in the IAS examination, and this guide will provide a comprehensive understanding of these aspects. Additionally, understanding the Government of India Act, 1919 will also help in analyzing the evolution of Indian governance and politics and its development into a democratic republic.
GOI Act 1919 background and context
The Government of India Act, 1919 was enacted in the aftermath of World War I and was a response to the growing demand for constitutional reform in India. The war had weakened Britain’s economic and political position, and there was a growing recognition of the need to address Indian demands for greater political participation and representation. The Act was formulated by the then Secretary of State for India, Mr. E.S. Montagu and the Governor General Lord Chelmsford.
The Indian National Congress and other political organizations had been agitating for constitutional reforms and greater representation in the government. The British government responded to these demands by enacting the Government of India Act, 1919, which aimed to introduce responsible government in the provinces and increase Indian representation in the government.
The Act was a departure from the previous policy of direct British rule and aimed to devolve power to the provinces and Indian representatives. It also aimed to address the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims by introducing separate electorates for different communities. The Government of India Act, 1919 marked a significant step in the evolution of Indian governance and politics and paved the way for future constitutional reforms.
GOI Act 1919 Features
The Government of India Act 1919 had the following key features and provisions:
- Creation of two new legislative councils, one for India and the other for Bengal.
- Introduction of responsible government in the provinces through the device of ‘Dyarchy’ or dual government.
- Division of subjects of administration into central and provincial subjects.
- The central subjects were kept exclusively under the control of the Central Government.
- The provincial subjects were divided into ‘transferred’ and ‘reserved‘ subjects.
- ‘Transferred subjects’ were to be administered by the Governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the Legislative Council.
- ‘Reserved subjects’ were to be administered by the Governor and his Executive Council with no responsibility to the legislature.
- Increase in the number of Indian members in the central and provincial legislative councils.
- Introduction of separate electorates for different communities, including Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, and Anglo-Indians.
- Expansion of the scope of local self-government and creation of new provinces.
- Transfer of some financial powers from the British Indian government to the Indian government.
- Creation of the office of the Secretary of State for India, who was responsible for Indian affairs.
- Introduction of a Public Service Commission for recruitment of civil servants.
- Extension of the jurisdiction of the Federal Court of India to hear appeals from the high courts of the provinces.
- Provision for the Indianization of the higher civil service.
- Division of sources of revenue into two categories to allow provinces to run their own administration.
- Separation of the provincial budget from the central budget.
- Establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to review the working of the act and make recommendations for its improvement.
- Introduction of the principle of responsible government in the provinces, with the Governor being made responsible to the central government.
- Expansion of the powers of the central government to enforce provisions related to defence, foreign affairs, and communication.
- Provisions for the protection of minority rights and tribal interests.
- Extension of the scope of the Central Legislative Assembly to include representatives from the princely states.
- Introduction of a federal structure in India, with the central government having powers over matters of national importance and the provincial governments having powers over local matters.
- The Upper House was named the Council of State and was composed of 60 members, of whom 34 were elected.
- Provision for the creation of a public service commission for the selection of civil servants.
- Introduction of the principle of separate representation for different communities and the provision of special representation for Muslims.
- Expansion of the scope of local self-government and the creation of new provinces.
GOI Act 1919 Impact on Indian Governance and Politics
The Government of India Act, 1919 had a significant impact on Indian governance and politics. The Act introduced the concept of responsible government in the provinces and devolved power to Indian representatives. This marked a departure from the previous policy of direct British rule and represented a step towards greater political representation for Indians.
The Act divided the subjects of administration into two categories: Central and Provincial. The ‘transferred subjects’ were to be administered by the Governor with the aid of Ministers responsible to the Legislative Council, in which the proportion of elected members was raised to 70%. This was a significant step towards representative government and increased the participation of Indians in the governance of their country.
The Act also made the Indian Legislature more representative and introduced a bicameral system for the first time, with the Upper House named the Council of State. This increased the representation of Indians in the government and gave them a greater voice in the legislative process.
The Government of India Act, 1919 also addressed communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims by introducing separate electorates for different communities. This provision was later criticized as it encouraged communalism and division, but it did represent a significant attempt to address the communal tensions of the time.
Criticisms of GOI Act 1919
Criticsms of the Government of India Act, 1919 include:
- Limited Representation: The Act increased the representation of Indians in the government but it was still limited and did not provide for full self-government.
- Dyarchy System: The ‘Dyarchy’ or dual government system was criticized for being confusing and ineffective, as the Governor had the final say in most matters.
- Reservation of Subjects: The reservation of certain subjects for the Governor’s discretion was seen as a limitation on the powers of the elected representatives.
- British Dominance: The Act reinforced British dominance over India as the Governor General remained responsible only to the British Parliament.
- Limited Franchise: The franchise was limited and only a small section of the Indian population was eligible to vote.
- No Provision for Hindu-Muslim Unity: The Act did not address the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims and did not provide any provisions to foster unity between the two communities.
- No Provision for Labour Representation: The Act did not provide any representation for labor or other marginalized groups.
- No Provision for Indianization of Services: The Act did not provide any provisions for the Indianization of the higher levels of government services, which remained dominated by British officials.
In conclusion, the Government of India Act, 1919 was a major milestone in the history of Indian governance and politics. Despite its limitations and criticisms, the Act represented a significant departure from the previous policy of direct British rule and marked a step towards greater political representation for Indians. The provisions of the Act paved the way for further constitutional reforms and the eventual development of India into a democratic republic. Understanding the context and impact of the Government of India Act, 1919 is important for anyone studying Indian history, politics and governance, especially for those preparing for the UPSC exams.