Government of India Act, 1935


The Government Act of 1919 was not satisfactory at all and was too short in its provisions for self-government to be imposed in the country. The 1919 Act also made a provision that a statutory commission would be set up at the end of 10 years after the Act was passed which shall inquire into the working of the system of the government. There was a growing demand for constitutional reforms in India by Indian leaders.

Consequently, the British Government constituted a committee headed by Sir John Simon which recommended further constitutional changes. Three round table conferences were held in London in 1930, 1931 and 1932 with the representation of the major interests. Based on these deliberations, a new Government of India Act 1935 was passed continuing the move towards self-government. The mainfeatures of the 1935 Constitution were as follows

1. Dyarchy at Centre

Although Dyarchy was abolished in the provinces, it was retained at the centre. Under this act, the federal subjects were divided into two-fold categories of Reserved and Transferred subjects. The Reserved list comprised of subjects such as administration of defence, external affairs, ecclesiastical affairs and matters related to tribal areas. These subjects were to be administered by Governor General at his discretion with the help of three counsellors appointed by him. The administration of the transferred subjects was to be done by Governor General on the advice of the Council of Ministers whose number could not exceed 10. However, the Governor General could act contrary to the advice of the Council of Ministers if any of his ‘special responsibilities’ was involved in such activities.

2. Greater Provincial Autonomy

The most remarkable feature of the Act was the provincial autonomy. With the abolition of Dyarchy in provinces, the entire provincial administration was instructed to the responsible ministers who were controlled and removed by the provincial legislatures.

Provincial autonomy means two things. First, the Provincial Governments were whole, responsible to the provincial legislatures and secondly, provinces, were free from outside control and interference in a large number of matters. The act divided the powers between the Centre and provinces in terms of three list-Federal List (for the Centre, with 59 items), a Provincial List (for Provinces, with 54 items), and a Concurrent list (for both, with 36 items). Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy.

The degree of autonomy introduced at the provincial level was subject to important limitations: the provincial Governors retained important reserve powers, and the British authorities also retained a right to suspend responsible government.

3. Establishment of a “Federation of India”

2. For the first time in history, India was declared as a federation, consisting of both British India and some or all of the “princely states”. Entry into the Federation was compulsory for the Provinces but voluntary for the Princely States.

However, the parts of the Act intended to establish the Federation of India never came into operation, due to opposition from rulers of the princely states. The remaining parts of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the act were also held.

4. Electoral Reforms

The act extended the franchise, thus increasing franchise from seven million to thirty-five million people. About 10% of the total population got voting rights. It also introduced direct elections.

5. Geographical Reorganization

Sindh was separated from Bombay. Bihar and Orissa were split into separate provinces of Bihar and Orissa. Burma was completely separated from India. Aden was also detached from India and established as a separate Crown colony

7. Federal Legislature

The Act provided for a bi-cameral legislature at the centre consisting of a lower house with 375 members out of which 250 were representatives of British India and not more than 125 members from princely states. While the seats reserved for princely states were to be filled by nominated members, the provinces were given different numbers of seats. Election to the Federal Assembly was to be indirect.

Besides the lower house, the federal legislature had an upper house known as the Council of States composed of 260 members of which 156 were to be representatives of British India and 101 of the Indian states. With one-third of its members retiring every 3rd year, 150 out of 156 representatives of British India were to be elected on a communal basis while six were to be nominated by Governor General from amongst women, minorities and depressed classes.

8. Representatives of Princely States

The distribution of the seats among states was on their relative importance and not population. The representatives of the princely states would be nominated by rulers.

9. Safeguards and Reservations

A controversial feature of the Government of India Act, of 1935 was the safeguards and reservations provided in the Act, which would serve as checks and limitations on such undesirable tendencies which might lead to the failure of the responsible government in India. They were imposed either on the exercise of powers by the Government of India or on of the states.

10. Establishment of Federal Court

The Government of India Act, of 1935 provided for the establishment of a Federal Court to interpret the Act and adjudicate disputes relating to federal matters. Besides being the highest authority for filing of appeals from High Courts to the Federal Court and from the Federal Court to the Privy Council, the Federal Court was given exclusive original jurisdiction to decide disputes between the Centre and constituent Units.

11. Abolition of Indian Council

It abolished the council of India, established by the Government of India Act of 1858. The secretary of state for India was provided with a team of advisors in its place.

12. Federal Railway Authority

The GOI act of 1935 vested the control of the Railway in a new authority called the Federal Railway Authority, which had seven members and was free from the control of ministers and councillors. The members of this authority reported directly to Governor General.

Importance of the Act
The Government of India Act of 1935 was an important milestone in the history of constitution-making, state-building, and also of nation-building in India. The institutions it created through this act became the pillars of strength for the succeeding states of Pakistan and India are still functioning in one form or other

  1. It provided a template for constitution making in the two states as the present constitutions in India and Pakistan and even in Bangladesh are modelled on this constitution

Criticism of the Government of India Act 1935
The Act of 1935 was condemned by nearly all sections of Indian opinion and was unanimously rejected by Congress as it did not even make mention of Dominion status. Calling it a ‘slave constitution that attempted to strengthen and perpetuate the economic bondage of India’, the Indian National Congress demanded instead, the convening of a constituent assembly elected based on adult franchise to frame a constitution for an independent India.

The Muslim League also attacked the Act but was ready to work with provincial sections for ‘what it was worth’. Mr Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, described it as thoroughly rotten, fundamentally bad and unacceptable. It was criticized on the following grounds-

  1. The British Parliament and the Secretary of State for India continued to be the virtual rulers of the country till the year 1947. The new Act armed the Governors and Governor-General with tremendous discretionary powers and thus reduced Provincial Autonomy to a farce. In a way, the Act made the Governors so powerful that they could play the dictator if they liked.

The Government of India Act, of 1935 was a major step towards the Independence of India and helped in the reorganization of the states. The Act was largely disappointing because it did not hold out assurance about granting Dominion Status, nor it said anything regarding the fundamental rights of the people. Despite the above-mentioned drawbacks, the new Act had its significance as it paved the way for the independence of India. This Act provided the basis for negotiation between Britishers and Indians for getting independence. It introduced several features which later formed the nucleus of the constitutions framed by the independent governments of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.



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