Main provisions of Government of India Act 1919


The Government of India Act, 1919, incorporated mainly the recommendations of Montague-Chelmsford Report of 1918. So the Act was passed with a view to introduce some Constitutional Reforms in India in pursuance of the declared policy of British Government of providing an increasing association of Indians in every branch of Indian Administration. It aimed at the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressive realization of responsible Government of India. Thus, the main provisions of the Government of India Act, 1919 based on the Montague-Chelmsford Report can be divided into following five heads

1. Changes introduced in the Central Government

The Montague-Chelmsford Report did not intend to change the character of the Government at the Centre and wanted the Government of India to remain wholly responsible to the Parliament. The Government of India Act, 1919 only reconstructed the Central Legislature. The following changes were made in the Central Government –

(i) The Executive Council – The constitution of Viceroy’s Executive Council was slightly modified. The maximum limit imposed on the membership of the Council was removed.

(ii) The Government in Council – The Central Government comprised of the Governor-General-in-Council with eight members including the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief.

(iii) Functions of Government of India – The Government of India was to administer the Central subjects. In addition it had two more functions to perform-(a) It, was entrusted with the power of superintendence, direction and control over Provincial Government in respect of all reserved subjects; and (b) the Government of India was also responsible for the administration of all subjects in area of British India not included within the boundaries of the nine Governors’ Provinces.

The Governor-General was to carry out his functions with the advice and concurrence of his council but he could over-ride the decision of the Council if he was satisfied that the decision was harmful or wrong or it was necessary to do so for peace and tranquility of the country.

(iv) The Central Legislature – The Central Legislature established under the Act of 1919 was to consist of the following two Chambers-

(a) The Council of States – By the Montague-Chelmsford Report a Council of States was established as an Upper Chamber in which Government will be able to command a majority. The Council of State was to consist of not more than sixty members – 34 elected and 26 nominated. Of the nominated members 20 were official and 6 non-officials. Election of members was to be direct but franchise for the Council was extremely restricted.

(b) The Legislative Assembly – The Lower House called the Indian Legislative Assembly consisted of 143 members in all of whom 103 were elected and 40 were nominated. Of the forty nominated members 26 were officials and 14 were non-officials.
The Governor-General was not a member of either Chamber but he could address any Chamber. In fact he was part of the central legislature, as his assent was necessary for passing of a Bill to become an Act.

Powers of the Central Legislature – The Indian legislature was empowered to make laws for all persons, courts, places and things within British India, for all subjects of His Majesty and the servants of the Company within all parts of India. But this power was subject to certain restrictions. In this way, the list of Central subjects included the subjects of All India importance. The Act further provided that previous sanction of the Governor-General was required for the introduction of the measure affecting major policy-matters. A Bill to become law had to pass through both the Chambers and receive the assent of the Governor-General.

The Montague-Chelmsford Report did not propose responsible Government at the Centre. Therefore, the Act introduced responsive and not responsible Government at the Centre.

2. Changes introduced in the Provincial Government

The following changes were made in the Provincial Government-

(i). Division of subjects between Centre and the Provinces – The Montford Reform was to make a beginning to the Provincial autonomy in Local Government in India. This implied freedom of control from above and also in a sense transfer of power to the people. To achieve this object, the subjects of administration and sources of income were divided into two classes and were contained in two lists called (a) the list of Central subjects; and (b) the list of Provincial subjects.

(ii) The system of Dyarchy in Provinces – The Montague-Chelmsford Report had laid down that the steps towards the progressive realisation of responsible Government should first be taken in the Provinces. The system to be introduced was known as ‘Dyarchy’. The Provincial subjects were divided into two classes, the ‘Transferred’ and the ‘Reserved’ subjects. The responsibility for the proper administration of the Reserved’ subjects lay with the Governor-in-Council of the Province, while the ‘Transferred subjects were controlled by the Governor acting with his Ministers. The controversy as to whether a subject was transferred subject or reserved subject was to be settled by the Governor. His decision in this respect was final.

(iii) The Provincial Executive – With the introduction of the system of ‘Dyarchy’ in the Provinces, the Executive Government in the Provinces was split into two distinct parts. One comprising of Governor-in-Council , while the other consisting of the Governor and his Ministers: The Governor of the Province played a pivotal role in the new system. The Governor and his Council were jointly responsible for the administration of the Reserved subjects and were responsible to the Governor-General-in-Council and the Secretary of State for India and ultimately to the British Parliament.

Ministerial Responsibility-Genuine effort was made in the Act to afford a measure of responsible Government by appointing Ministers who were to guide the Governor for the administration of transferred subjects. It is significant to note that the Act made no provision for the joint or cabinet meeting of Ministers.

(iv) Provincial Legislature – The Montford Report stressed on the need to enlarge the size of the Legislative Council with a substantial elected majority with such a communal and special representation as may be necessary. The members were to be elected by direct franchise and the size of the Legislative Council was to depend on its population.
Thus, the Unicameral Legislature called the ‘Legislative Council was set-up in each of the eight provinces under the Act of 1919.

Franchise – The system of election recommended by the Montford Report was a direct one.

Communal representation – The Montford Report described the communal representation being injurious to the development of responsible government. Nonetheless this concession had to be extended to various communities of India.

Duration of the Council – The normal duration of the Legislative Council was three years. It could be dissolved even earlier by the Governor. He could also extend the life of the Council for a maximum period of one year. The Act provided for the appointment of a President and a Deputy President for the Legislative Council.

Powers of the Council – The Provincial Legislative Council was given power to make laws “for Peace and a Good Government”, of the Province. But this power was restricted in a number of ways. The changes introduced by the Government of India Act, 1919 in the Provincial set-up of Government constituted the first step towards the establishment of responsible government.

3. Provisions regarding Indian States

Recognising the importance of the native States, the Act proposed the constitution of a Chambers of Princes so that the consultation with the Heads of these States could be possible. A Standing Committee constituted of 4 or 5 members of the Chambers advised the Political Department of the Government on questions referred to it. All important States were placed in direct relations with the Viceroy instead of the local Governments.

4. Changes introduced in the Indian Civil Services

The Government of India Act, 1919 also contained provisions regularising the position of Civil Services in India. All existing rules relating to the Civil Services were held valid but they could, however, be altered by the rules made in future. The Act also authorised the establishment of a Public Service Commission in India.

5. Changes in the ‘Home’ Government

The Act of 1919 introduced signified changes in the Home Government as under-

(i) Modification in India Council – The council henceforth was to consist of not less than eight and not more than twelve members. The Secretery of State was the ex-officio President of the India-Council, and all the powers and functions so far exercised by the Court of Directors and Board of Control were transferred to him. Henceforth the salary of the Secretary of State and his staff was to be paid out of British exchequer and not from the Indian revenue. The Act also provided that the matters of purely Indian interest were to be decided by the Government of India in consultation with the Legislature and the Secretary of State could intervene in such matters only under exceptional circumstances.

(ii) High Commissioner for India – The Government of India Act, 1919 provided for the appointment of a High Commissioner for India. With the appointment of the High Commissioner the commercial and ceremonial functions of the Secretary of State were passed on to him. He was also to protect the interests of Indian students studying in England.

(iii) Relaxation of the control of the Secretary of State – The Act of 1919 reduced the powers of the Secretary of State with regard to control over India to a considerable extent. The powers in regard to Indian administration were now generally delegated to the Governor-General in Council.

Alternate Dyarchy System Established under Government of India Act, 1919

The Government of India Act, 1919 introduced dyarchy in the provinces. Under this system the subjects to be dealt with by the Provincial Governments were divided into two parts – (1) Transferred and (ii) Reserved subjects. Reserved subjects were administered by Governor with the help of the Executive Council and Transferred subjects were dealt with by the Governor with the help of the Ministers. Executive Councillors were responsible to the Governor while Ministers were responsible to the Legislature and Governor both. It was desirable to place subjects like Agriculture, Police, Administration of Justice, Industries etc., in the transferred list so that they could be administered by the Governor and Ministers responsible to the Provincial Legislature. But important subjects were kept beyond the control of Ministers which was the main defect of Dyarchy system in the provinces.

Defects or the reasons for the failure of Dyarchy

The above system of Dyarchy which worked from 1921 to 1937 never worked satisfactorily for the following reasons –

1. The principle of dyarchy was faulty. The division of administration into two parts, each independent of the other was opposed to the political theory and the practice of Governments. The division itself was a worse.

2. The two-halves of the Government did never co-operate each other. Executive Councillors belonged to the bureaucracy while Ministers were representatives of the people. There was a constant conflict between the two. As a result, the work of administration suffered.

3. Ministers had to please two masters, the Legislature before whom they were responsible and the Governor who commanded the Ministers allegiance for their existence. Thus, the Ministers were in a weakened position, practically they had to support the official resolution. Sometimes it resulted in lawlessness and confusing directions to the Head of Departments. The Ministers were to hold office during the pleasure of the Governor. Besides, they were to be responsible to Provincial Legislature. The Governor could refuse the advice of Ministers without assigning any reasons.

4. The Governor did not exchange joint responsibility between Ministers. They never worked as a team. They criticised each other in public which shakened public confidence in its form of Government.

5. All India Civil Servants were under the control of Secretary of State for India. So they often disregarded the Minister’s directions. It created bad blood between the two parts of the Government.

6. In cases of difference of opinion between the permanent Secretary or Head of Department and the Minister concerned, it was referred to the Governor for final decision. Generally Governor favoured the official version which ofter humiliated and weakened the position of Ministers.

7. Finance was the reserved subject and so always held by an Executive Committee. All the nation building departments were given to Ministers but they were given no money for the same. The result was that the Ministers had to depend upon the sweetwill of the Finance Secretary

8. The system of Dyarchy was introduced when the political atmosphere of the country was surcharged with suspicion and distrust on account of happening in the Punjab and the attitude of British Government. Monsoon failed in 1920 which added to the public misery. Finances were upset.

However, in spite of the above defects Mr. Roberts was right when he said, “Dyarchy was the best transitional mechanism that appeared after a prolonged examination of alternatives.” Speaking in the same veins Thompson and Garret assert that “the reforms were far from being a complete failure. Useful work was done in the Provinces by the Indian Ministers and the process of Indianisation within the Government was proceeding quickly.’



Q.:- State the Provisions of the Government of Indian Act, 1919.

Q.:- Discuss the Constitutional administration in India under Montague-Chelmsford reforms.

Q.:- Critically examine the system of dyarchy as introduced by the Government of India Act, 1919.


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