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Journey of Indian Constitutional System: Pre-Independence Developments III

Journey of Indian Constitutional System: Pre-Independence Developments III

Continued from here

With the enactment of Indian Councils Act, 1909, the clear intention of the Government showed up i.e. to create differences among the political groups of the country through reservation of constituencies. Though the administration got better, what followed that later was even worse. Two statutes, to assist the previous one was passed.

  1. The Government of India Acts, 1912 and 1915: To consolidate and amend the Act of 1909, the Government of India Acts were passed in 1912 and 1915 without doing any substantial improvement. The Act of 1912 cancelled the Partition of Bengal and Bihar and Orissa were made a new province. In Bengal, a separate Governor was appointed with the similar designation to those of Madras and Bombay. The Act of 1915 merely consolidated the provisions of preceding Acts and made no change in the constitutional structure.


  1. Government Of India Act, 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reports): Failure of Morley-Minto Reforms, Heavy losses in the First World War, Home-Rule Movements by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant and the reunion of the two wings of Congress in 1916 in Lucknow pressurized the British government to make a landmark substantial development. The then Secretary of State for India, A.Montague, made an announcement about the ‘goal of British Policy’ in India in the House of Commons. On the proposals made by the Secretary of State and Governor-General (Lord Chelmsford), the Government of India Act, 1919 was passed. The features of the Act were:
  • The payment to the Secretary of State was now to be done by the British Exchequer which was earlier made out of the Indian revenues.
  • Post of High Commission was established.
  • The strength of India Council was reduced and their term was reduced to 5 years which was 7 years before.
  • Bicameral Legislature was introduced through the Act, i.e., Council of States, consisting of 60 members (34 elected members) and holding office for 5 years, and Central Legislative Assembly, consisting of 143 members (104 elected members) and holding their office for a term of 3 years. The powers of both the Houses were same except the power to vote, it was exclusively given to the Legislative Assembly.
  • Diarchy system was established. The subjects were divided into two categories- Central and Provincial subjects.

The Reforms of 1919 were only showcasing, it further developed the Morley-Minto device of the arrangement of communal and sectional electorates. It failed the aspirations of Indians. Under the leadership of M.K.Gandhi, Congress again started agitation.



  1. Simon Commission: The Act of 1919 provided for the appointment of a Royal Commission after 10 years to assess the achievements of the Act, but the political situation in India, as well as Britain, led to the appointment 2 years before the said period. In November 1927, Royal Commission headed by John Simon was appointed. In Allahabad, an all-party conference was held on 11th December 1927 in which they condemned the Commission on non-inclusion of any Indian in it. The Commission published its report it. It stated that:
  • Dyarchy should not be ended.
  • Federal form of government should be developed in the country.
  • The communal representation system was bad but there was no alternative to it then.
  • The suffrage and legislatures should be extended gradually.


According to Coupland,

the Simon report was “The most complete study of the Indian Problem that had yet been made.”  

The new Government in Britain did not pay attention to the Report and the Indian leaders outrightly rejected it. However, it later became the basis for the Government of India Act, 1935.


  1. Government of India Act, 1935: Rejection of Dominion Status led to the Lahore Session of Congress where resolution on Purna Swaraj For Constitutional reforms, the Government help three Round Table Conferences which followed the publishing of White Paper in March 1933 containing an outline of a new Constitution. On the report of a Joint Committee, constituted to examine Government’s scheme, submitted its report in November 1934. A Bill, on the submitted report, was introduced on 19 December 1934 which after passing became the Government of India Act, 1935. The important features of the Act were:
  • It consisted 321 Sections and 10 Schedules.
  • It established a federal form of government in the country consisting the British India, Provinces and Princely States.
  • Division of powers between the Centre and Provinces was made through three lists- the Federal list, Provincial List, and Concurrent List.
  • A system of diarchy was introduced at the Centre. Federal subjects were divided into two categories- reserved and transferred.
  • The Provinces were made autonomous units to use legislative powers and the status of delegates of the Central Government was abolished. The Governor of the Province had to act on behalf of the Crown and was not subordinate of the Governor-General anymore.
  • The feature of a bicameral legislature at the Centre was introduced through the establishment of Federal Assembly (375 members) and Council of States (260 members). All the powers were same for both the Houses except the powers related to the money bill, which could originate only in Federal Assembly, and the Council of State had to amend or reject it.
  • A Federal Court, consisting a Chief Justice and six other judges, was established, with original as well as appellate jurisdiction. The appeal of its decision was to be made before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
  • Burma was separated from India and new provinces Orissa and Sind were created.
  • Separate electorates to provide representation in federal and Provincial Legislature for different communities were provided.
  • Public Service Commission for Federal Government and each Province was provided.

Despite bitter criticism, the Act of 1935 had the most significant effect on the Indian Political System. Though it went another step forward perpetuating the communal cleavage between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, Indians got an opportunity to for assuming some responsibility in running the administration. It all lasted for a short duration till the outbreak of the Second World War when all the Congress Ministries resigned in 1939 in protest to India being made a party to the War without the popular consent.


to be continued…..

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About Anupam Shukla

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