A Brief Background of Government of India Act 1935

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Govt. of India Act 1935

Today we will discuss a brief background of Government of India Act 1935 and will try to know how this act developed over a long time.

Background

The Reforms of 1919 failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people of India. The Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi started for “Swaraj” to be attained through “Non-cooperation”. As per the Govt. of India Act 1919, a Statutory Commission was to be appointed at the expiration of ten years after passing of the Act for the purpose of inquiring into the working of the system and the development of representative institutions in India, with a view to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing in India.

The British government appointed Statutory Commission (Simon Commission) in 1927 to enquire into the report of 1919 Act. This was done as a concession to the Indian demand for an early revision of the Act. The commission headed by Sir John Simon consisted of 7 members from British Parliament. It did not have a single Indian as a member. It was taken as an insult to self-respect of India and hence boycotted. Amidst protest of “Simon Go Back”, the Commission visited India.

It announced in 1929 that “Dominion Status” was the goal of Indian developments. The 1st Round Table Conference held in 1930, the 2nd in 1931 and the third in 1932.

Outcome of Round Table Conferences

The outcome of these conferences was announced in the the form of “White Paper”. It provided for –

  1. Educational facilities and reservation in politics for depressed class.
  2. Universal Adult Franchise.
  3. Prohibition of Social boycott.
  4. Communal representation.
  5. Separate electorate for the untouchables.

The Simon Commission brought the report of the resolutions of the conferences, but Gandhi opposed for separate electorate for untouchables and decided to “fast unto death”.

Congress leaders  met Gandhi in this regard and he was convinced. The resolution was modified by providing reservation for depressed classes instead of separate electorate for untouchables. This is popularly known as “Poona Pact” signed by Gandhi and Ambedkar.

A “White Paper” was prepared on the results of these conferences. It was examined by Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament and in accordance with the recommendations Government of India Act 1935 was passed.

Provisions of 1935 Act

The Govt. of 1935 Act contained 321 articles and 10 schedules. The important provisions of the acts are –

Federation

The Act provided for the establishment of “Federation of India”. It consisted of provinces of British India and Princely States as units. For the first  time an attempt was made to establish a federal government.

Distribution of Power

It divided legislative powers between the Central and Provincial legislatures. There was a threefold division :-

i) Federal list: Consisted of 59 subjects like external affairs, currency, defence etc, over which the federal legislature had legislative power.

ii) Provincial list: Consisted of 54 subjects; the police, education etc. over which provincial legislature had jurisdiction.

iii) Concurrent list: Consisted of 36 subjects like criminal law, civil procedure, marriage, divorce etc, over which both the federal and provincial legislature had competence.

The residuary powers were vested with the Governor General.

Dyarchy at the Centre

The Dyarchy which was established in the provinces by Act of 1919 was now adopted at the Centre. The executive authority vested in the Governor-General included the following :-

  1. The administration of reserved subjects like defence, external affairs etc was done by Governor General with the help of “Councilors”, who were appointed by him and not responsible to legislature.
  2. In the matters of transferred subjects the Governor General acted, on the advice of “Council of Ministers” who were responsible to the legislature.

Federal Legislature

The central legislature was bicameral consisting of Federal Assembly and the Council of States.

  1. The Council of States (upper house) consisted of 260 members, of which 156 (60%) were elected from British India and 104 (40%) were nominated by Princely States.
  2. Federal Assembly (lower house) consisted of 375 members, of which 250 (67%) were elected by the Legislative Assemblies and 125 (33%) nominated by the rulers of the Princely States.

Federal Court

It provided for the first time the establishment of a Federal Court for India in Delhi. Federal court was established in 1937 and consisted of a Chief Justice and 6 additional judges appointed by his Majesty’s Government on the basis of high legal qualifications.

  1. It had original jurisdiction to decide disputes between the Centre and the Provinces.
  2. Appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the High Courts.
  3. Advisory jurisdiction to advice the Governor General on any point of law.

It was the highest court in India. The federal court functioned in India for about 12 years, till its transformation into the Supreme Court of India in 1950 under the present Constitution. The credit for its excellent work goes to Sir Maurice Gwyer, who guided the Court in its formative years as its first Chief Justice.

Provincial Autonomy

By Govt. of India Act 1935, the provinces no longer remained as delegates of Central Government but became autonomous units of administration. The act introduced provincial autonomy viz. Madras, Bombay, Bengal, the United Provinces, Punjab, Bihar, Central Provinces, Assam, the North Western Frontier Province, Orissa and Sind. As federation was not introduced at the centre, the Govt of India was represented by the Governor General.

The provinces were administered by the ministers. The difference between the reserved and transferred subjects was dropped. All subjects were placed under the charge of ministers who were made responsible to legislature.

The legislative relations between the Central Government and the provinces were regulated according to three lists of subjects provided under the 1935 Act.

  1. However, “Dominion Status” which was promised by the Simon Commission in 1929 was not conferred by this Act.
  2. The intention to establish “Federation of India” did not materialize because of the opposition for merger from the rulers of Princely States.
  3. The degree of provincial autonomy introduced at the provincial level was limited as central government retained important powers and control. The Governor was given pivotal position, which discretionary powers on important matters. He was not bound by the advice of ministers. Thus the claim of conferring provincial autonomy was very limited.

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