Government of India Act 1935

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The Government of India Act 1935 was originally passed in August 1935 and was the longest British Act of Parliament ever enacted by that time. The Government of Burma Act 1935 was also included in it.

Background:

  • Indians had increasingly been demanding a greater role in the government of their country since the late 19th century. The Indian contribution to the British war effort during the First World War meant that even the more conservative elements in the British political establishment felt the necessity of constitutional change, resulting in the Government of India Act 1919.
  • After the release and publication of Simon Commission Report when the new Labour Government succeeded in office, it declared that the Report was not final and in order to resolve the constitutional deadlock, the matter would finally considered after consulting representatives of all the Indian communities. This would be done at a Round Table Conference in London.
  • After holding three sessions of Round Table Conference in 1930, 1931 and 1932 respectively, their recommendations were embodied in a White Paper published in 1933, which was considered by a Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament chaired by Lord Linlithgow. (However, division between Congress and Muslim representatives proved to be a major factor in preventing agreement as to much of the important detail of how federation would work in practice. So, the new Conservative-dominated National Government in London decided to go ahead with drafting its own proposals “the white paper”.)
  • The government also constituted a committee of 20 representatives from British India and 7 from Indian States including 5 Muslims.
  • The committee went in session from April 1933 to December 1934 for deliberation and submitted its report to Parliament in the end of 1934.
  • The Parliament debated the report and passed a bill in February 1935, which got royal assent on July 24th 1935, and it was enforced on April 1, 1937 with the name of Government of India Act 1935.

PROVISIONS OF THE ACT:

  • The Government of India Act 1935 contained 32 Sections, 14 Parts and 10 Schedules and consisted of 2 Major The Act introduced federal systemin the centre.

Provincial Part of the Act:- Introduction of Provincial Autonomy:

  • The provincial part of the Act basically followed the recommendations of the Simon Commission.
  • In the provinces Diarchy was There was no Reserve Subjects and no Executive Council in the provinces. The Council of Ministers was to administer all the provincial subjects except in certain matters like law and orders etc. for which the government had special responsibilities.
  • The ministers were chosen from among the elected members of the provincial legislature and were collectively responsible to it.
  • The British-appointed provincial Governors (who were responsible to the British Government via the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India) were to accept the recommendations of the ministers unless, in their view, they negatively affected his areas of statutory “special responsibilities” such as the prevention of any grave menace to the peace or tranquility of a province, the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of minorities, rights of civil servants etc.
  • In the event of political breakdown, the Governor, under the supervision of the Viceroy, could take over total control of the provincial government. This, in fact, allowed the governors a more untrammeled control than any British official had enjoyed in the history of the Raj. [After the resignation of the congress provincial ministries in 1939, the governors did directly rule the ex-Congress provinces throughout the war.]
  • It was generally recognized, that the provincial part of the Act, conferred a great deal of power and patronage on provincial politicians as long as both British officials and Indian politicians played by the rules. However, the paternalistic threat of the intervention by the British governor rankled.

Federal Part of the Act: – All India Federation: [Never Happened]

  • The India Act 1935 proposed to set up All Indian Federation comprising of the British Indian Provinces and Princely States. The constituent units of the Federation were 11 Governor’s provinces, 6 Chief Commissioner’s provinces and all those states that agreed to joint it. The States were absolutely free to join or not to join the proposed Federation.
  • At the time of joining the Federation the ruler of the state was to execute an Instrument of Accession in favour of the Crown. On acceptance of that Instrument, the state was become a unit of the Federation. The ruler was however authorized to extend the functions of the federal authority in respect of his state by executing another instrument in its internal affairs.
  • The act proposed that federation of India could come into existence only if as many princely states were entitled to one half of the states seats in the upper house of the federal legislature.
  • The terms offered to the Princes included:
  • Each Prince would select his state’s representative in the Federal Legislature. There would be no pressure for Princes to democratize their administrations or allow elections for state representatives in the Federal Legislature.
  • The Princes would enjoy heavy weightage. The Princely States represented about a quarter of the population of India and produced well under a quarter of its wealth.
  • Unlike the provincial portion of the Act, the Federal portion was to go into effect only when half the States by weight agreed to federate. This never happened due to opposition from rulers of the princely states and the establishment of the Federation was indefinitely postponed after the outbreak of the Second World War.
  • The remaining parts of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the act were also held.

Division of Federal Subjects:

  • The scheme of federation and the provincial autonomy necessitated proper division of subjects between the centre and the provinces.
  • The division under 1919 Act was revised and the 1935 Act contained three listse. (1) Federal, (2) Provincial (3) Concurrent Legislative Lists.

Introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre:

  • The India Act 1935 introduced Dyarchy at the The Federal Subjects were divided into two categories, the Reserved and the Transferred. The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor-General on the advice of executive councilors, while transferred subjects were to be administered on the advice of the ministers.
  • The Reserved included defence, ecclesiastical affairs, external affairs and administration of Tribal Areas. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of executive councilors not exceeding three in number.
  • The rest of the subjects were Transferred ones. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of a Council of Ministers, the number of which was not to exceed The Governor General by his special powers and responsibilities could dominate the ministers.
  • The British Government, in the person of the Secretary of State for India, through the Governor-General of India (Viceroy), would continue to control India’s financial obligations, defence, foreign affairs and the British Indian Army and would make the key appointments to the Reserve Bank of India and Railway Board.
  • The Act stipulated that no finance bill could be placed in the Central Legislature without the consent of the Governor General. The funding for the British responsibilities and foreign obligations (e.g. loan repayments, pensions), at least 80 percent of the federal expenditures, would be non-votable and be taken off the top before any claims could be considered for social or economic development programs.
  • The Viceroy, under the supervision of the Secretary of State for India, was provided with overriding and certifying powers that could, theoretically, have allowed him to rule autocratically.

Protection of Minorities:

  • A very significant provision was the safeguards and protective armours for the minorities. It was argued that the minorities needed protection from the dominance of the majority community. But the so-called provisions in the Act relating to safeguards were merely a trick to empower the Governor General and the Governors to override the ministers and the legislators.

Bicameral Legislature:

  • The proposed federal legislature was bicameral body consisting of the Council of States (Upper House) and the Federal Assembly (Lower House).
  • The strength of the Upper House (Council of States) was 260 out of which 104 nominated by the rulers were to represent the Indian States. 6 by the Governor General and 150 were to be elected. (Out of 260 members 156 were to represent the provinces and 104 to the native Indian states.)
  • Out of the 156 which were to represent the provinces, 150 were to be elected on communal basis. Seats reserved for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, were to be filled by direct elections and Seats reserved for Indian Christians, Anglo Indians and Europeans was to be filled by indirect method of a electoral college consisting of their representative members
  • The lower House was to consist of 375 members, out of which 250 were to be the representatives of the British India and 125 of the Indian States. The members from the British India were to be indirectly elected who were composed of the members of the Lower Houses of the Provincial Legislatures but were to be nominated by the rulers in case of the Indian States. Its life was 5 years unless dissolved earlier by the Governor General.
  • 6 out of 11 provinces were given bicameral system of legislature. The Act not only enlarged the size of legislature, it also extended the franchisee. the number of voters was increased and special seats were allocated to women in legislature.
  • Membership of the provincial assemblies was altered so as to include more elected Indian representatives, who were now able to form majorities and be appointed to form governments.

Establishment of a Federal Court, Federal Railway Authority and Reserve Bank:

  • The India Act 1935 also provided for the establishment of a Federal Court to adjudicate inter-states disputes and matters concerning the interpretation of the constitution.
  • It was however, not the final court of appeal. In certain cases the appeals could be made to the Privy Council in England.
  • A federal court was established which began its functioning from October 1, 1937. The chief Justice of the federal court was Sir Maurice Gwyer. It consisted of One Chief Justice and not more than 6 Judges.
  • Federal Railway Authority: The Government of India Act 1935 vested the control of the railways in federal railway authority, a new 7 member body. This authority was kept free from the control of ministers and councilors. The idea was to assure the British Stakeholders of the railways that their investment was safe
  • Reserve Bank of India was established.

Communal and Separate Electorate and Reservations:

  • The Act not only retained the separate electorate (of previous act of 1919) but also enlarged its scope. The Anglo-Indians and the Indo-Christians were also given separate electorate.
  • Women were granted reservation in 41 seats in provincial legislatures as well as limited reservations in central legislature. But women reservation was subdivided in religious lines.
  • The reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes was incorporated into the act.

Supremacy of the British Parliament:

  • The supremacy of the British Parliament remained intact under the government Act of India 1935. No Indian legislature whether federal or provincial was authorized to modify or amend the constitution. The British Parliament alone was given the authority to amend it.

Burma Separation from India:

  • Another important feature of the Act was that Burma was separated from India with effect from April 1937.
  • Aden was also transferred from the administrative control of the Government of India to that of the colonial offices. Thus Aden became a Crown colony.

Abolition of the Indian Council of the Secretary of State:

  • The Government of India Act 1935 abolished the Council of Secretary of State for India, which was created in 1858. Secretary of State was to have advisers on its place.
  • With the introduction of the provincial autonomy the control of the Secretary of State over Transferred Subjects was greatly diminished. His control, however, remained intact over the powers of Governor General and Governors.

Reorganization of Provinces and Creation of Two New Provinces:

  • A partial reorganization of the provinces:
  • Sindh was separated from Bombay.
  • Bihar and Orissa was split into separate provinces of Bihar and Orissa.
  • Hence, the Act provided for the creation of two new provinces of Sindh and Orissa.
  • The new provinces together with NWFP formed the Governor provinces making 11 in all.

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