Government of India Act 1919 – Mont-Ford Reforms

Government of India Act, 1919 came into effect on 23 December 1919 after it was passed British Parliament and received royal assent. This act embodied the reforms recommended in the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms and covered a ten years period from 1919 to 1929.

Background

Lord Chelmsford became Viceroy of India on 4 April 1916. On 17 July 1917, Edwin Samuel Montagu was made secretary of state for Government of India. This was the era of World War I and our country witnessed a rapid growth of revolutionaries.

During the First World War, Gandhi Ji had requested the country to help the allies in war. Indian public was expecting that they would also get democratic reforms. Samuel Montagu is known to have put a statement in the British Cabinet which asked for “gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government” however, later the words “ultimate self government” were removed from his statement and He declared what is now known as Montagu Declaration.

The Montagu declaration reads as:

“Increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire“.

The key phrase “ultimate self-government” was removed but, still the another key phrase “responsible government” in this statement gave the inference for the first time that rulers are answerable to the public.

  • The declaration made the moderates happy and they said “It is Magna Carta of India”. However extremists expressed that it fell short for legitimate expectations of India. After all, total independence was what they wanted.
  • The date was 20 August 1917 and it is also known as “August Declaration”
  • The Government of India act 1919 was passed on the basis of recommendations of Lord Chelmsford and Samuel Montagu to introduce self-governing institutions gradually to India. This act covered 10 years from 1919 to 1929.

Salient Features of the GOI Act, 1919

Important Features of this Act were as follows:

Separate Preamble & End of Benevolent Despotism

The Government of India Act 1919 had a separate Preamble. This Preamble declared that objective of the British Government is the gradual introduction of responsible government in India. Thus, this act represented the end of benevolent despotism and began the birth of responsible government in India.

Introduction of Diarchy

The preamble of the GoI Act, 1919 suggested for a decentralized unitary form of government. Diarchy means a dual set of governments one is accountable another is not accountable. The act made a provision for classification of the central and provincial subjects. The provincial subjects were divided into two groups viz. reserved and transferred.

  • The reserved subjects were kept with the Governor and transferred subjects were kept with the Indian Ministers.
  • This division of subjects was basically what they meant by introducing the Diarchy.
  • The reserved subjects were the essential areas of law enforcement such as justice, police, and revenue. The transferred subjects were such as public health, public works, education etc.
Indian Executive

The Indian executive comprised of the Governor General and his council. No bill of the legislature could be deemed to have been passed unless assented to by the Governor General. The later could however enact a Bill without the assent of the legislature.

Bicameral Legislature

This act made the central legislature bicameral. The first house which was central legislature, with 145 members (out of which 104 elected and 41 nominated) was called central Legislative Assembly and second called with 60 members (out of which 33 elected and 27 nominated) was called Council of States. The term of the assembly was fixed 3 years and council 5 years. The central legislature can be called a primitive model of today’s Lok Sabha & council of states can be called a primitive model of Today’s Rajya Sabha.

Establishment of Public Service Commission

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

Statutory Commission after 10 Years

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.

Extension to Communal Representation

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

Central Legislature

The tenure of the central legislature was 3 years The seats were distributed among the provinces not upon the basis of the population but upon the basis of their importance in the eyes of the government, on the basis of communities, and property was one of the main basis to determine a franchisee. Those people who had a property, taxable income & paid land revenue of Rs. 3000 were entitled to vote.

Powers of Central Legislature vis-à-vis Governor General

The central legislature was empowered to consider, pass or reject legislation on any of the subjects enumerated in the Central list. But, the Governor-General had the last word on any Bill passed by 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 tranquility 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.

Financial Powers of Central Legislature

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.

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Comments

  • ram
    Reply

    how were the members of central legislative house elected?

    direct elections or indirectly from the provincial council?

  • deepak shah
    Reply

    direct election were held but only certain people who have some basic financial classification and have certain land, property and money were allowed to cast their vote