Indian Independence Act 1947 – UPSC Notes

The Indian Independence Act of 1947 is an Act of the British Parliament that partitioned British India into two new independent dominions of India and Pakistan. This 1947 Act, based on the “Mountbatten Plan“, received the Royal Assent on 18 July 1947. Thus, India and Pakistan came into being on 15 August 1947.

Overview of Indian Independence Act 1947

Long TitleAn Act to make provision for the setting up in India of two independent dominion states, to substitute other provisions for certain provisions of the Government of India Act of 1935, which apply outside those dominions, and to provide for other matters consequential on or connected with the setting up of those Dominions.
Enacted byParliament of the United Kingdom
Territorial extentBritish India
Royal Assent18 July 1947
Commencement15 August 1947
Repealed on26 January 1950 (India).
23 March 1956 (Pakistan and East Pakistan).
Repealed byConstitution of India (in 1950).
Constitution of Pakistan (in 1956).

Historical Background

Attlee’s announcement

On 20 February 1947, the Prime Minister of England, Clement Attlee, announced in the House of Commons that:

  • The British Government would grant full self-government to British India by 30 June 1948.
  • The future of the Princely States would be decided after the date of final transfer is decided.

To transfer the power to responsible Indian hands, Attlee advised King George VI to appoint Lord Mountbatten as the ‘Viceroy of India’. Lord Mountbatten arrived in India in March 1947 as the last Viceroy of India. He was assigned the task of speedy transfer of power.

Dickie Bird Plan

In May 1947, Mountbatten proposed an initial plan known as the ‘Dickie Bird Plan‘. As per this plan, the provinces were to be declared independent successor states and then allowed to choose whether to join the Constituent Assembly or not. However, this plan was opposed by Jawaharlal Nehru. In Nehru’s opinion, this plan would lead to the Balkanisation of the country.

Mountbatten Plan

Then, Lord Mountbatten came up with the final plan known as the “3 June Plan” or “Mountbatten Plan”. This plan was the last plan for Indian independence, announced on 3 June 1946, which included the following principles:

  • The British Government accepted the Principle of partition of British India, which was to be partitioned into two dominions: India and Pakistan.
  • Autonomy and Sovereignty to both countries.
  • The right to make their own constitution.
  • The Princely States were given the right to join either India or Pakistan, based on two major factors: Geographical contiguity and the people’s wishes.

Mountbatten Plan was accepted by both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. The plan came into action by the Indian Independence Act of 1947. The British Government introduced the Indian Independence Bill on 4 July 1947 in the British Parliament, which received the Royal Assent on 18 July 1947.

Provisions of the Indian Independence Act 1947

  • This 1947 Act ended the British rule in India and declared India an independent and sovereign state with effect from 15 August 1947.
  • The Act divided British India into two independent dominions of India and Pakistan, with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth.
  • It provided for the partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal between the two new nations.
  • The boundaries of the new provinces were to be determined, whether before or after the appointment date, by the award of a Boundary Commission to be appointed by the Governor-General.
  • The Act abolished the office of the Viceroy of India. It provided, for each dominion, a Governor-General was to be appointed by the British Crown on the advice of the Dominion Cabinet. The British Government in Britain was to have no responsibility with respect to the Government of India or Pakistan.
  • The 1947 Indian Independence Act abolished the office of the Secretary of State for India and transferred his functions to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
  • The Indian Independence Act of 1947 empowered the Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any Constitution for their respective nations.
  • It empowered the Constituent Assemblies of both the dominions to legislate for their respective territories till the new Constitutions were drafted and enforced.
  • It also provided the power to the Constituent Assemblies of both nations to repeal any Act of the British Parliament applied to new dominions, including the Indian Independence Act itself.
  • No Act of the British Parliament passed after 15 August 1947 would be extended to either of the new dominions unless it was extended thereto by a law of the legislature of the dominion.
  • This 1947 Act provided for the governance of each of the dominions and the provinces by the Government India Act of 1935, till the new Constitutions were framed. However, the dominions were authorised to make modifications to the 1935 Act.
  • British Government lost all the responsibility to the new dominions. The suzerainty of the British Government over the Indian States lapsed.
  • The Act dropped the title of “Empress of India” from the royal titles of King of England.
  • The Act proclaimed the lapse of British paramountcy over the Indian Princely States and treaty relations with tribal areas with effect from 15 August 1947.
  • It granted the freedom to the Indian Princely States either to join the Dominion of India or Pakistan or to remain independent.
  • It designated the Governor-General of India and the provincial governors as Constitutional (nominal) heads of the States. They were made to act on the advice of the respective council of ministers on all matters.
  • The 1947 Act deprived the British Monarch of his rights to veto bills or ask for the reservation of certain bills for his approval. But, this right was reserved for the Governor-General. The Governor-General would have the full power to assent to any bill in the name of His Majesty.
  • It discontinued the appointment to Civil Services and reservation of posts by the Secretary of State for India. The members of the Civil Services appointed before 15 August 1947 would continue to enjoy all benefits that they were entitled to till that time.
  • The Indian Independence Act 1947 also made a provision for the division of joint property, etc., between the two new countries, including in particular the division of armed forces.

Partition of India

On the midnight of 14 and 15 August 1947, the British rule in India came to an end and power was transferred to the two new independent Dominions of India and Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten became the first Governor-General of Independent India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor-General of the new Dominion of Pakistan.

Legislative Assemblies of Punjab and Bengal decided in favour of the partition of these two provinces. Boundary Commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Cyril Radcliffe to demarcate the borderline of Bengal and Punjab Province. East Bengal and West Punjab joined Pakistan, while West Bengal and East Punjab remained with the Indian Union.

The referendum of North-Western Frontier Province was in favour of Pakistan. The referendum in Sylhet district resulted in the incorporation of that district into East Bengal. Sindh and Baluchistan threw in their lot with Pakistan.

Repeal of the Indian Independence Act 1947

India and Pakistan repealed the Indian Independence Act of 1947 by adopting their Constitutions. The Indian Independent Act was subsequently repealed in Article 395 of the Constitution of India and Article 221 of the Constitution of Pakistan of 1956. Both Constitutions were intended to bring about greater independence for the new States.

With the adoption of the Constitution of India, the status of dominion was abolished and India became a republic.

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