Government of India Act 1919

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In line with the government policy contained in Montagu’s statement (August 1917), the Government announced further Constitutional Reforms in July 1918, known as Montagu- Chelmsford or Montford Reforms.

The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms were reforms introduced by the British Government in India to introduce self-governing institutions gradually to India. The reforms take their name from Edwin Samuel Montagu, the Secretary of State for India during the latter parts of World War I and Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India between 1916 and 1921.

Edwin Montagu became Secretary of State for India in June 1917 after Austen Chamberlain resigned. He put before the British Cabinet a proposed statement containing a phrase that he intended to work towards “the gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government.”

Lord Curzon thought that this phrase gave too great an emphasis on working towards self-government and suggested an alternative phrase that the Government would work towards “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 Cabinet approved the statement with Curzon’s phrase incorporated in place of Montagu’s original phrase.

MAIN FEATURES OF THE MONTFORD REFORMS:

Provincial Government — Introduction of Dyarchy:

Executive:

Dyarchy, i.e., rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers—was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head in the province.

Subjects were divided into two lists: “reserved” which included subjects such as law and order, finance, land revenue, irrigation, etc., and “transferred” subjects such as education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, etc.

The “reserved” subjects were to be administered by the Governor through his executive council of bureaucrats, and the “transferred” subjects were to be administered by Ministers nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.

The ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and had to resign if a no-confidence motion was passed against them by the legislature, while the executive councilors were not to be responsible to the legislature.

In case of failure of constitutional machinery in the province the Governor could take over the administration of “transferred” subjects also.

The Secretary of State and the Governor-General could interfere in respect of “reserved” subjects while in respect of the “transferred” subjects; the scope for their interference was restricted.

Legislature:

Provincial Legislative Councils were further expanded — 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 Legislative Councils could initiate legislation but the Governor’s assent was required. The governor could veto bills and issue ordinances.

The Legislative Councils could reject the budget but the Governor could restore it, if necessary.

The legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.

Central Government — Still Without Responsible Government:

Executive:

The Governor-General was to be the chief executive authority.

There were to be two lists for administration– Central and Provincial.

In the Viceroy’s Executive Council of 8, three were to be Indians.

The Governor-General retained full control over the “reserved” subjects in the provinces.

The Governor-General could restore cuts in grants, certify bills rejected by the Central Legislature, summon, prorogue, dissolve the Chambers, and issue ordinances.

Legislature:

A bicameral arrangement was introduced. The lower house or Central Legislative Assembly would consist of 144 members (41 nominated and 103 elected—52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, 20 Special) and the upper house or Council of State would have 60 members (26 nominated and 34 elected—20 General, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans and 1 Sikh).

The Council of State had tenure of 5 years and had only male members, while the Central Legislative Assembly had tenure of 3 years.

The legislators could ask questions and supplementaries, pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget, but 75% of the budget was still not votable.

Some Indians found their way into important committees including finance.

The Secretary of State would control affairs relating to Government of India.

In 1921 another change recommended by the report was carried out when elected local councils were set up in rural areas, and during the 1920s urban municipal corporations were made more democratic and “Indianized”.

Review:

The Montagu-Chelmsford report stated that there should be a review after 10 years.

Sir John Simon headed the Committee (Simon Commission) responsible for the review which recommended further constitutional change.

Three round table conferences were held in London in 1930, 1931 and 1932 with representation of the major interests.

Gandhi attended the 1931 round table after negotiations with the British Government. The major disagreement between Congress and the British was separate electorates for each community which Congress opposed but which were retained in Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award.

A new Government of India Act 1935 was passed continuing the move towards self-government first made in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report.

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