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Government Of India Act 1919

The Government of India ACT of 1919 was an act of the British parliament that sought to increase the participation of Indians in the administration of their country

In 1918 Edwin Montagu who was the current Secretary of the State and Lord Chelmsford the Viceroy came up with schemes of constitutional reforms known as the Montagu- Chelmsford reforms (Mont-Ford)REFORMS which led to the enactment of the Government of India Act of 1919

Mont-Ford reforms came into force in 1921
  • The sole act was for the representation of the Indians in the Government
  • The act introduced reforms at the Central as well as Provincial levels of Government
  • The most notable feature of the act was "end of benevolent despotism" and introduction of responsible government in India. This act covered 10 years from 1919 to 1929.

Historical Background
During the World War Britain and her allies had said that they were fighting the war for the freedom of nations. Many Indian leaders believed that after the war was over, India would be given Swaraj. The British government however had no intention of conceding the demands of the Indian people. Changes were introduced in the administrative system as a result of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, called the Government of India Act, 1919.

Edwin Samuel Montagu had remained the Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922. He was a critic of the entire system by which India was administered. On 20 August 1917, he made a historic declaration in the House of Commons in British Parliament which is called "Montague declaration". The theme of this declaration was increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration and gradual development of self governing institutions and responsible government in India.

In November 1917, Montague had visited India to ascertain views from all sections of polity including talks with Gandhi and Jinnah. A detailed report on Constitutional Reforms in India {Mont-Ford Report} was published on 8th July, 1918. This report became the basis of Government of India Act 1919.

Key features of this report were as follows:
  • Increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration.
  • Gradual development of self governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British empire.
  • Progress towards responsible government in successive stages

The Government of India Act 1919 had a separate Preamble. Key points of the preamble were as follows:
  • India to remain as an integral part of British Empire. Gradual decentralization of authority with loosening the supreme hold of the central government. Thus, the preamble of this act suggested for a decentralized unitary form of government.
  • The time and manner towards goal of responsible government will be decided by the British Parliament.
  • Responsibility in provinces, but no change in character of the central government.

Features Of The Act:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
  8. 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.
  9. It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education.
  10. 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.
Powers of the Assembly and Council
The Legislative Assembly and Council of State enjoyed similar and concurrent powers except in matters of finance. A bill needed to be passed on both the houses before becoming a law. The budget was presented in both the houses in same day, however, all other money bills were first introduced in lower house and then in upper house. Voting on grants could take place only in legislative assembly. Further, if a money bill was passed by assembly but rejected or returned by the assembly with some amendments, the amendment were not acceptable to the assembly until so certified by the Governor General.

Financial Powers
The act separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets. But the financial powers of the central legislature were also very much limited. The budget was to be divided into two categories, votable and non-votable. The votable items covered only one third of the total expenditure. Even in this sphere the Governor-General was empowered to restore any grant refused or reduced by the legislature, if in his opinion the demand was essential for the discharge of his responsibilities.

Conflict between Legislative Assembly and Council
There were three instruments to resolve the deadlock between the two houses. These instruments were: Joint Committees, Joint Conferences and Joint Sittings. Joint committees meant to avoid the possibility of deadlock. Joint Conferences meant to solve the differences by agreeing to a conference of equal number of representatives of both the houses and Joint Sittings was convened by the Governor as a last resort within six months of the difference.

Elections and Franchise
Under the Government of India Act 1919, the franchise was restricted. There was no universal franchise, no adult suffrage and no voting powers for women.

The qualifications for voting were as follows:
  • They should have a property with rental value, taxable income or paid land revenue of at least Rs. 3000 in a year.
  • They must have past experience in the legislative council.
  • They must have membership of university senate.
  • They should hold certain offices in local bodies.
  • They should have some specified titles.
The above qualifications were so much restrictive that there were only 1700 voters for election of 33 members.

Powers of the Governor General
No bill of the legislature could be deemed to have been passed unless assented to by the governor general. However, the later could enact a Bill without the assent of the legislature. He possessed the power to prevent the consideration of a Bill or any of its part, on the plea that it was injurious to the peace and tranquillity of the country.

He could disallow a question in the legislature. He had the power to withhold his assent to any bill passed by the legislature without which it could not become an Act. He also had the power to disallow an adjournment motion or debate on any matter. He could enact a law, which he considered essential for the safety and tranquility of the empire even if the legislature had refused to pass it.

Other Important Provisions
The act provided for the establishment of a Public Service Commission in India for the first time.

This act also made a provision in its part V, that a statutory commission would be set up at the end of 10 years after the act was passed which shall inquire into the working into the system of the government. The Simon commission of 1927 was an outcome of this provision.

The communal representation was extended and Sikhs, Europeans and Anglo Indians were included. TheFranchise (Right of voting) was granted to the limited number of only those who paid certain minimum "Tax" to the government.

Critical Assessment
Given the above insight of the Government of India Act of 1919 it is clear that the Act provided for partial transfer of Power to the electorate through the system of Dyarchy.

It also prepared the ground for the Indian Federalism, as it identified the provinces as units of fiscal and general administration. But the growing nationalism was not satisfied. The Act of 1919 had three major defects from the nationalist point of view:
  1. Absence of responsible government at the centre,
  2. Separate electorates for different communities. Although the Mont-ford Report had declared that the separate electorate was a very serious hindrance to the development of the self-governing principles, yet separate electorate came to be significant feature of the Indian political life. The introduction of diarchy in the province was too complicated to be smoothly worked.

Despite of several limitations, the Government of India Act 1919 had some merits. The Government of India act 1919 marked the end of the policy of benevolent despotism, and thus began the genesis of the responsible government in India. It was for the first time, that elections to the legislatures were known to the people and this created political consciousness among the masses.

However, those people who had a property, taxable income & paid land revenue of Rs. 3000 were entitled to vote. The number of the Indian in the was raised to 3 in the Governor General in Council of 8. These Indian members were entrusted to some portfolios such as labor, health and industry.

It was the Act 1919, whereby, the Indians came in direct contact with administration for the first time. This was a very useful experience. It was also for the first time that a number of Indian women got the right to franchise for the first time.

Now, under the Indian ministers , some of the far reaching measures were taken such as enactment of Madras State Aid to Industries Act, 1923, the Bombay Primary Education act, the Bihar and Orissa village administration Act, the Bombay local boards act, 1923, etc. Written By: Mr Saunyama

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