In August 1935, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act 1935, which marked the second milestone toward a fully responsible government in India. It was the Longest Act enacted by the British Parliament so far and was later divided into two parts: the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Government of Burma Act of 1935.
The original Constitution of India (1950) was a by-product of the legacy started by the 1935 Government of India Act. More than half of the provisions of the Indian Constitution are identical to or bear a close resemblance to the Government of India Act of 1935.
The Federal Scheme, Governors, Emergency Powers, Judiciary, Public Service Commission, and most administrative details, etc. were drawn from this 1935 Act. Thus, the Government of India Act 1935 is the most profound influence & material source of the Constitution.
Overview of the Government of India Act 1935
|Long Title||An Act to make further provisions for the Government of India|
|Enacted by||Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Territorial Extent||Territories under British control|
|Royal assent||2 August 1935|
|Commencement||1 April 1937|
|Status||Repealed on 26 January 1950|
Since the late 19th Century, Indians had increasingly been demanding a vital role in the administration of their country. The Indian contribution to Britain in the First World War also aided in the British acknowledgement of the need for the inclusion of more Indians in the administration of India. The British government felt the necessity of constitutional changes in India, resulting in the Government of India Act 1919.
The 1919 Government of India Act introduced the dyarchy system in provinces of British India. The objective of the 1919 Act was to gradually introduce responsible government in India, but as an integral part of the British Empire.
However, the Government of India Act of 1919 was not satisfactory. It was too short in its provisions for the self-government form to be imposed in the country. The experiment with dyarchy proved unsatisfactory. The Indian politicians were frustrated at that time because even those areas over which they had official control were still in the hands of the British officials.
The 1919 Act provided that a royal commission would be sent to India after ten years to review the working of the Act. In 1927, two years before the schedule, the British government announced the appointment of the Simon Commission to review this matter and make changes to it. The Commission submitted its report in 1930, which was also not satisfactory to Indians.
In an attempt to involve more Indians in working out a new constitutional framework, the British government called a series of Round Table Conferences in the early 1930s. It led to the consultation with the then Indian community representatives at the Round Table Conference, held in London. However, the Round Table Conferences were unable to fulfil their goal.
In March 1933, based on the recommendations of Round Table Conferences, the British government published a White Paper on Constitutional Reforms containing provisions for a federal set-up and provincial autonomy.
A Joint Committee of the Houses of the British Parliament was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Linlithgow to consider the recommendations of the White Paper. The Committee submitted its report in 1934, which laid out that a federation would be set up if at least 50% of the princely states were ready to join it.
The British government prepared the bill based on these reports, which got enacted by the British Parliament in 1935 to become the Government of India Act of 1935.
Sources of the Government of India Act 1935
The Government of India Act 1935 was a lengthy and detailed document having 321 Sections and 10 Schedules. The 1935 Act had drawn its content from four key sources, which were:
- Simon Commission Report,
- The recommendations of the Round Table Conferences,
- The White Paper published by the British government in 1933 (based on the Third Round Table Conference),
- Reports on the Joint Select Committees.
Provisions of the Government of India Act 1935
Establishment of All Indian Federation
- Government of India Act 1935 provided the creation of an All-Indian Federation, consisting of British provinces and Princely states as units.
- The proposed All-Indian Federation included the 11 Governor’s provinces of British India, 6 Cheif Commissioners Provinces, and those princely states who might accede to the federation.
- The terms on which a princely state joined the federation were to be laid down in the Instrument of Accession.
- The ruler of each princely state willing to join the federation was to sign an “Instrument of Accession” mentioning the extent to which authority was to be surrendered to the federal government.
- The British provinces would have to join the federation, but it was not compulsory for the princely states. The accession to All-Indian Federation was voluntary for the princely states.
- As per the Act, India would become a federation if 50% of the princely states decided to join it.
- However, this federation never came into being as the princely states did not join it.
Division of Subjects
- The Government of India Act 1935 divided the powers between the Centre and Provinces in terms of three subject lists, which were:
- Federal list: with 59 items (for Centre)
- Provincial list: with 54 items (for Provinces)
- Concurrent list: with 36 items (for both the Centre and Provinces)
- Residuary powers were given to the Governor-General of India.
Introduction of the Provincial Autonomy
- The Government of India Act of 1935 abolished the Dyarchy in the provinces. The Act introduced the “Provincial Autonomy” in its place.
- The provinces were allowed to act as Autonomous units of administration in their defined spheres.
- The 1935 Act introduced responsible governments in provinces, subject to certain safeguards. The Governor was the head of the executive. The Governor was required to act with the advice of Ministers responsible to the provincial legislature. This came into effect in 1937 and was discontinued in 1939.
- However, this does not mean that the 1935 Act established a full-fledged responsible government in the Provinces. The Governors still retained the special reserve powers. The British authorities could still suspend a provincial government.
Dyarchy at the Centre
- The 1935 Government of India Act provided for the adoption of Dyarchy at the Centre.
- The Federal subjects were divided into Reserved subjects and Transferred subjects.
- Reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor-General with the help of three executive councillors appointed by him. These reserved subjects include religious affairs, defences, external affairs, taxation, tribal affairs, power resources, etc.
- Transferred subjects were to be administered by the Governor-General with his Council of Ministers (the number of ministers could not exceed 10). The Council had to act in confidence with the legislature. The transferred subjects include education, health, forests, local governments, etc.
- However, this provision of the Act did not come into operation at all.
Principle of communal representation
- The Govt. of India Act 1935 further extended the principle of communal representation.
- The Act provided separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), labour (workers), and women.
- The Central Legislature was bicameral, having two chambers: the Council of States (Upper House) and the Federal Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
- The Council of State was to be a permanent body, with one-third of its member retiring every 3rd year. The Upper House was to be composed of 260 members, of which 156 members were to be representatives of British India and 104 members were representatives of princely states.
- Out of 156 representatives of British India, 150 members were elected on a communal basis, whereas six members were nominated by the Governor-General from amongst women, minorities, and depressed classes.
- The representatives of the princely states would be nominated by the rulers.
- The Federal Assembly (Lower House) had a term of five years. The Lower House was to be composed of 375 members, of which 250 members were to be representatives of British India and 125 members were from princely states.
Introduce Bicamerlism in provinces
- The 1935 Government of India Act also introduced bicameralism in 6 Provinces (out of eleven provinces). Thus, the provincial legislatures were further expanded.
- The provincial legislatures of Bombay, Madras, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, and the United Provinces were made Bicameral, consisting of a Legislative Assembly (Lower House) and a Legislative Council (Upper House).
- However, many restrictions were placed on them.
Extension of Franchise
The Government of India Act of 1935 extended the Franchise with about 10% of the total population getting the right to vote.
Abolition of Indian Council
- The Government of India Act 1935 abolished the Council of India, established by the Government of India Act of 1858.
- The Secretary of State for India was provided with a team of advisors in its place.
Establishment of Federal Court
- The Government of India Act of 1935 provided for the establishment of the Federal Court, with original and appellate powers, to interpret the 1935 Act and settle the disputes relating to federal matters.
- The Act provided that Federal Court should consist of one Chief Justice and not more than six Judges.
- The Federal Court was given the original jurisdiction to settle the inter-state disputes and disputes between the Centre and the provinces.
- A provision was made for filing appeals from High Courts to the Federal Court.
- The Federal Court also had the jurisdiction to grant Special Leave to Appeal, and for such appeals, a certificate of the High Court was essential.
- The Privy Council in London was to dominate the Federal Court. There was a right of appeal from the Federal Court of India to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
- Under the provisions of the 1935 Act, the Federal Court of India was set up on 1 October 1937 with original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction. It began with a chief justice and two puisne judges. Sir Maurice Gwyer was the first Chief Justice, and the other two judges were Sir Shah Sulaiman and M. R. Jayakar. The seat of the Court was the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building in Delhi. It functioned until the Supreme Court of India was set up in January 1950.
Establishment of Public Service Commission
- The Govt. of India Act of 1935 provided for the establishment of the Federal Public Service Commission.
- The 1935 Act also provided for the setting up of the Provincial Public Service Commission and the Joint Public Service Commission for two or more provinces.
Establishment of the Federal Bank
The 1935 GOI Act also provided the establishment of the Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country.
Created the Federal Railway Authority
- To control the Indian railways, the GOI Act 1935 set up a new authority called the Federal Railway Authority.
- This authority had seven members and was free from the control of ministers and councillors.
- The members of the Federal Railway Authority directly reported to the Governor-General of India.
Reorganization of the provinces
- The 1935 Government of India Act also restructured or reorganized the following provinces:
- Sindh was separated from Bombay province.
- Bihar and Orissa were split into separate provinces.
- The Act of 1935 also detached Aden from India and established it as a separate colony.
Separation of Burma
- The Simon Commission proposed the separation of Burma (Myanmar) from India. In pursuance of the recommendation of the Simon Commission, the Government of India Act 1935 provided for the separation of Burma from India. The actual separation of Burma took place in 1937.
- In preparation for the establishment of Burma, the Government of India Act 1935 also provided a new Burma Office. Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain on 1 April 1937.
- However, the same Secretary of State for India headed both Departments and was styled the Secretary of State for India and Burma. Lord Dundas became the first Secretary of State for India and Burma.
Emergency Powers of Governor-General
The Government of India Act of 1935 laid out that in case of emergency, the Governor-General of India could issue a Proclamation of Emergency and empower the Federal Legislature to make laws on Provincial subjects.
Implications of the Government of India Act of 1935
The proposal of setting up of All-Indian Federation, as visualised in the 1935 Act, never came into being because of the opposition from different parties of India. Further, the Act proposed that the federation of India come into existence only if as many princely states were entitled to one-half of the state’s seats in the Upper House of the Federal Legislature. However, the Princely states did not join the federation of India.
Due to this, the Central Government continued to be governed in accordance with the Government of India Act 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reforms).
However, other provisions of the Government of India Act 1935 came into force. The Reserve Bank of India was set up in 1935, and the Federal Court of India was established in 1937. The British Government decided to introduce provincial autonomy on 1 April 1937. Under the Act, the first elections for the provinces were held in 1937. The 1935 Act was a step toward a complete responsible government in India.
Government of India Act 1935 – Defects
The Government of India Act of 1935 was an endeavour to give India a written constitution, even though Indians were not involved in its creation. However, the 1935 Act provided a Rigid Constitution with no possibility of internal growth. The Right of the amendment was reserved for the British Parliament.
The 1935 Act further extended the system of communal representation by providing separate electorates for the depressed classes, women, and labour. The extension of the Principle of Communal Electorates and Representation of various interests further promoted separatist tendencies, culminating in the partition of India.
This Act of 1935 failed to provide proper federal structure. Moreover, the autonomy introduced at the provincial level was limited and restricted. The majority of powers were with the Governor-General and Governors.
The Government of India Act 1935 was condemned by nearly all sections of Indian opinion and unanimously rejected by the Indian National Congress.
FAQs on the Government of India Act 1935
What are the main features of the Government of India Act 1935?
1. Provision for the establishment of an All-India Federation.
2. Introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre.
3. Abolition of Dyarchy in the provinces.
4. Introduction of Provincial Autonomy.
5. Introduction of Bicamerlism in the provinces.
6. Divison of Subjects.
7. Extended the principle of communal electorate and representation.
8. Extension of Franchise.
9. Abolition of Council of India.
10. Establishment of Federal Bank and Federal Court of India.
11. Establishment of Public Service Commission.
12. Creation of Federal Railway Authority.
13. Reorganisation of Provinces.
14. Separation of Burma.
What were the Main Defects of the Government of India Act 1935?
The Government of India Act 1935 did not provide a proper federal structure. The Provincial Autonomy introduced by the 1935 Act was limited and restricted. The Governor still retained certain discretionary powers ahead of elected representatives. The British Authorities could also suspend the elected Government.
This Act of 1935 also extended the principle of the communal electorate.
Why did the Government of India Act of 1935 Fail?
Both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League opposed the Government of India Act of 1935 because of its various drawback.
The Provincial Governors retained the special reserve powers ahead of the elected representatives.
The Act provided a rigid constitution with no possibility of internal growth. The Right of Amending this Act was reserved for the British Parliament.