Government of India Act 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reforms) – UPSC

In 1919, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act 1919 to expand the participation of Indians in the administration of India. The Act embodied the reforms recommended in the report by Edwin Montagu (the then Secretary of State for India) and Lord Chelmsford (the then Viceroy of India). Thus, the Government of India Act 1919 was also known as the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms or Mont-Ford Reforms.

Provisions of the Government of India Act 1919

The salient features of the Govt. of India Act 1919 were as follow:

Division of Subjects

  • The 1919 Government of India Act relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the Central and Provincial Subjects.
  • The Act authorized the Central and Provincial Legislatures to make laws on their respective list of Subjects.
  • However, the Structure of Government in India continued to be centralized and unitary.

Introduction of Dyarchy: Transferred and Reserved Subjects

  • The Government of India Act 1919 introduced the “Dyarchy” (dual set of governments) at the Provincial Level.
  • The Governor was the executive head of the Province. With dyarchy, there were two classes of administrations: Executive Councillors and Ministers.
  • The 1919 Act further divided the Provincial Subjects into two parts: transferred and reserved subjects.
    • The transferred subjects were to be administered by the Governor with the aid of Ministers responsible to the legislative council.
    • The subjects such as education, health, agriculture, fisheries, local governments, public works, religious endowments, etc., were kept in the transferred list.
    • The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor and his Executive Council without being responsible to the legislative council.
    • The subjects such as law and order, administration of justice, irrigation, land revenue administration, famine relief, finance, borrowing, newspapers, forests, etc., were kept in the reserved list.
    • The Secretary of State for India and Governor-General of India could interfere in the matters under the reserved list, whereas their interference was restricted for the transferred list.
  • This dual scheme of governance was known as dyarchy, in which one is accountable, the other is not accountable. (The term “dyarchy”, derived from the Greek word di-arche, which means double rule)
  • The dyarchy was implemented in eight provinces:
    • Assam, Bengal, Bihar & Orissa, Bombay, Madras, Central Provinces, United Provinces, Punjab.
  • However, this system of Dyarchy was largely unsuccessful.

Elections and Franchise

  • The Govt. of India Act 1919, for the first time, introduced direct elections in the country.
  • The Act also granted the franchise (right of voting) to a limited number of people based on property, tax, or education. There was no universal adult suffrage. The qualifications for voting were as follows:
    • The voters should have paid land revenue of Rs 3000 in a year, or have a property with rental value or have taxable income.
    • They should have previous experience in the legislative council.
    • They should be members of the universal senate.
    • They should hold certain offices in the local bodies.
    • They should have some specific titles.

Introduction of Bicameralism

  • The Government of India Act 1919, for the first time, introduced Bicameralism in the Central Legislature of the Country.
  • Thus, the Indian (or Central) Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameralism legislature consisting of a Lower House (Legislative Assembly) and an Upper House (Council of State).
  • Composition of Lower House: The Lower House (or Legislative Assembly) consisted of 145 members having a tenure of 3 years. The members were either nominated or elected from the provinces.
    • Out of 145 members, 41 members were nominated and 104 elected members.
      • 41 nominated (26 official and 15 non-official members).
      • 104 elected (52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, 7 Landlords, 9 European, 4 representative of India community).
  • Composition of Upper House: The Upper House (or Council of State) would have 60 members (only male members) with a tenure of 5 years.
    • Out of 60 members, 26 members were nominated and 33 elected members.
      • 27 nominated (17 officials and 10 non-official members).
      • 33 elected (16 General, 11 Muslim, 1 Sikh, 3 Europeans).
  • The majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election.

With the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, the legislators could now ask questions and supplementary, pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget. However, only 25% of the budget was subject to vote, while the rest was non-votable.

There were three measures to resolve any deadlock between the Lower House and Upper House were: joint conferences, joint committee, and joint sittings.

The Central Legislature was authorized to make laws for all of India. The Central Government had control over the provincial governments.

The legislature had no control over Governor-General and his Executive Council. Also, the legislature of India could not change or reverse any law passed by the British Parliament in relation to India.

Establishment of unicameral Provincial Legislative Councils

  • The 1919 Government of India Act also introduced unicameralism in provinces. In other words, the provincial legislature was to consist of one House (Legislative Council) only.
  • The Act expanded the Provincial Legislative Councils. Now about 70% of the members were to be elected.
  • The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.
  • Women were also given the right to vote.
  • The Provincial Legislative Council could initiate the legislation, but the Governor’s assent was required to pass any bill.
  • The Governor could overrule the ministers on any grounds that he consider special.
  • He also retained the complete control over the finances.
  • The legislative councils could reject the budget, but the Governor could restore it if necessary.
  • The Governor could also veto the bills and issue ordinances.

Established the office of High Commissioner for India

  • The Government of India Act 1919 set up a new office of the High Commissioner for India in London.
  • The High Commission was to hold his office in London for six years, and his duty was to look after the Indian trade in Europe.
  • The Act transferred some of the functions hitherto performed by the Secretary of State for India to the High Commissioner for India.

Establishment of a Public Service Commission

  • The Government of India Act of 1919, for the first time, provided for the establishment of a Public Service Commission.
  • Hence, a Civil Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.

Separation of Budgets

The Govt. of India Act 1919, for the first time, separated the Provincial Budgets from the Central Budget. The Act authorized the Provincial Legislature to enact their Budgets.

The Act kept the income tax as a source of revenue to the Central Government. However, for Bengal and Bombay, a provision was made to assign them 25% of the income tax to meet their objections.

Extended the Principle of Communal Representation

The Govt. of India Act 1919 also extended the principle of communal representation by providing a separate electorate for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans.

Salary of Secretary of State for India

The Secretary of State for India, who used to get his pay from India Indian revenue, was now paid by the British Exchequer.

Governor-General Executive Council

The 1919 Act required that three of the six members of the Governor-General Executive Council (other than the commander-in-chief) were to be Indian.

Powers of Governor-General

  • The Central Legislature was addressed by the Governor-General of India.
  • The assent of the Governor-General was required for any bill to become law, even if it was passed by both Houses of Central Legislature.
  • The Governor-General could enact a bill without the consent of the Legislature.
  • He could prevent any bill from becoming law if he determines it as a detrimental to the peace and tranquility of the country.
  • The tenure of the Legislature was three years, which could be extended by the Governor-General.
  • The Governor-General could call for the meetings, or adjourn the meetings, or repeal the Legislature.
  • The Governor-General could disallow any question, adjournment motion, or debate in the House.

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