- In case of a disagreement between federal and provincial laws on the same subject, federal law would prevail.
- To resolve conflicts arising from subjects not included in the lists, the Act empowered the Governor General to allocate the right to legislate on such subjects either to the Centre or to the provinces, at his discretion.
- This division of subjects aimed to delineate the areas of legislative authority and provide clarity on which level of government had jurisdiction over different matters.
- Here’s a table showcasing the three lists under the Government of India Act (1935):
|List||Number of Items||Description|
|Federal List||59||Subjects of all-India interest and requiring uniform treatment|
|Provincial List||54||Subjects mainly of local interest and within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Legislatures|
|Concurrent List||36||Subjects primarily of Provincial interest but requiring uniformity of treatment across the country|
- The division of subjects into these three lists provided a framework for legislative authority and determined which level of government (federal or provincial) had the power to enact laws on specific matters.
Dyarchy at the Centre:
- Under the Government of India Act (1935), dyarchy (shared responsibility) was abolished at the provincial level and introduced at the Centre. At the Centre, there were two categories of federal subjects: Reserved Subjects and Transferred Subjects.
- The Reserved Subjects category included subjects that were to be administered by the Governor-General on the advice of the Executive Councillors.
- The Executive Council was limited to a maximum of three members.
- Examples of reserved subjects included religious affairs, defence, administration of tribal areas, and external affairs.
- The Governor-General retained ultimate authority over the administration of these subjects.
- The Transferred Subjects category encompassed subjects that were to be administered by ministers.
- The number of ministers handling these subjects was limited to a maximum of ten.
- Subjects other than those listed as reserved were dealt with under the Transferred Subjects category.
- The Governor-General maintained overall control over both the Reserved and Transferred subjects.
- The introduction of dyarchy at the Centre aimed to divide administrative responsibilities between the Governor-General and the ministers, providing a system of shared governance.
Bicameral Legislature under the Government of India Act, 1935:
- The Central Legislature established under the Government of India Act, 1935, was bicameral, consisting of two houses: the Federal Assembly and the Council of States.
- The Council of States served as the upper house and was designed to be a permanent body, with one-third of its members retiring every third year.
- The Council of States comprised a total of 260 members, with 156 representatives from British India and 104 representatives from the Indian states.
- The Federal Assembly, functioning as the lower house, had a tenure of five years.
- The Federal Assembly consisted of 375 members, with 250 representatives from British India and a maximum of 125 members from the princely states.
- Nominated members filled the seats designated for princely states, while the provinces were allotted varying numbers of seats.
- The members of the Federal Assembly were elected indirectly.
- The term of the assembly was five years, but it could be dissolved earlier if necessary.
- Bicameralism was also implemented in six out of the eleven provinces.
- The provinces of Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, Assam, and the United Seven Provinces had bicameral legislatures.
- Each province had a legislative council (upper chamber) and a legislative assembly (lower house).
- Despite the implementation of bicameral legislatures, they were subject to several restrictions.
- The powers and authority of the provincial legislatures were limited, and certain aspects were still under the control of the Governor and the British government.
- The legislatures operated within the framework defined by the Government of India Act, of 1935, and had to adhere to its provisions and limitations.
Retention of Communal Electorate:
- The Government of India Act, of 1935 extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women, and labour (workers).
- Muslims were allotted 33 1/3 per cent of seats in the Federal Legislature, even though their population was less than one-third of the total population of British India.
- Separate representation was also given to workers and women, even though they had not requested it.
- The Act established a Federal Court with one Chief Justice and a maximum of eighty-six judges.
- The Federal Court was responsible for interpreting the Act and settling disputes related to federal matters.
- It had exclusive original jurisdiction to resolve conflicts between the Centre and member Units.
- Appeals from High Courts to the Federal Court and from the Federal Court to the Privy Council were made possible.
- The Federal Court had the authority to issue Special Leave to Appeal, subject to obtaining a certificate from the High Court.
Reorganization of Provinces:
- The Act led to the reorganization of provinces. Sindh was separated from Bombay and became a separate province.
- Bihar and Orissa were split to form two separate individual provinces of Bihar and Orissa.
Separation of Burma:
- The Simon Commission proposed the separation of Burma from India, and this proposal was accepted through the Government of India Act, of 1935.
- The Burma Act was passed in 1935, two years after the Government of India Act, and Burma became a separate colony.
Supremacy of the Parliament:
- The 1935 Act was rigid and could not be changed or amended by any Indian legislature, whether federal or temporary.
- The British Government alone had the authority to make modifications to the Act.
- The Indian legislature could submit a resolution for a constitutional amendment but had limited power to influence changes. The Act was imposed on India by the British Parliament.
Abolition of the Indian Council of the Secretary of State:
- The Government of India Act, of 1935 abolished the Council of the Secretary of State for India, which was originally established in 1858.
- Instead of the Council, the Secretary of State was provided with advisers. However, with the introduction of provincial autonomy, the Secretary of State’s control over Transferred Subjects was greatly diminished.
- The Secretary of State’s control over the powers of the Governor General and Governors remained intact.
Federal Railway Authority:
- The Act established the Federal Railway Authority, which assumed control over the railways.
- The authority consisted of seven members and was independent of councillors or ministers.
- The Governor-General received direct reports from the authority.
- The establishment of this authority aimed to assure British stakeholders that their investments in the railways would be safeguarded.
- The Act provided for the establishment of the Reserve Bank of India to regulate the country’s currency and credit.
- It also established not only a Federal Public Service Commission but also Provincial Public Service Commissions and Joint Public Service Commissions for two or more provinces.
- Separate electorates for women were introduced, allowing for their representation and participation in the decision-making process, which was seen as a positive step towards women’s empowerment.
The Government of India Act (1935) had significant implications and influences on the political landscape of India:
- Power Distribution: The Act decentralized power by reducing the concentration of authority in the Central Government and granting more autonomy to the provinces. It aimed to establish a more balanced and decentralized form of governance.
- Women’s Representation: The Act introduced separate electorates for women, despite their not explicitly requesting it. This provision was significant in promoting women’s participation and advancement in the decision-making process.
- Representation for Workers: The Act also provided separate representation for workers, recognizing their importance and facilitating their progress as a distinct group.
- Provincial Autonomy: The Act aimed to give provinces more autonomy and freedom from external interference, allowing them to govern within their defined spheres.
- Expanded Voting Rights: The Act extended voting rights to a larger portion of the population compared to the Government of India Act, of 1919, ensuring broader participation in the political process.
- Inclusion of Princes: The Act proposed the establishment of a federal government that would involve the participation of princely states in India’s political activities, recognizing their significance in the overall governance structure.
- Influence on the Indian Constitution: The framers of the Indian Constitution took inspiration from the Government of India Act, of 1935, incorporating some of its characteristics and provisions into the constitutional framework. For example, the concept of having a Governor for each state, elected by the Central Government, was borrowed from the Act. Additionally, the establishment of Public Service Commissions, as outlined in Article 315 of the Indian Constitution, was also influenced by the Act.
- Overall, the Government of India Act, of 1935 played a significant role in shaping India’s political landscape, and its provisions had lasting effects on subsequent constitutional developments in the country.
The Government of India Act (1935) faced significant criticism for several reasons:
- Reduction of Provincial Autonomy: Critics argued that the Act granted excessive discretionary powers to the Governors and Governor-General, effectively diminishing the autonomy of the provinces.
- Flawed Federation Formation: The proposed formation of the Federation was seen as flawed. Provinces were compelled to join the Federation, while the Princely States had the option to join voluntarily. Moreover, the representation of the States in the Federal Legislature was criticized as their nominees, rather than elected representatives, would hold the positions.
- Lack of Proper Federal Structure: The Act was criticized for not providing a well-defined federal structure. Power was heavily concentrated with the Governor-General, undermining the authority and autonomy of other governing bodies.
- Retention and Extension of Communal Electorate: The Act maintained and extended the system of Communal Electorate, which was deemed divisive. Critics objected to its continuation and expansion, particularly with the inclusion of separate electorates for Harijans, labour, and women.
- Concentration of Powers: The Act granted broad powers to the Governor-General and Governors in the name of protecting minority rights, which was viewed by critics as excessive and undemocratic.
- Continued British Control: Until 1947, the British Parliament and the Secretary of State for India retained de facto control over the country. This lack of genuine self-governance generated disdain and resentment towards the Act.
- Lack of Constitutional Flexibility: The legislation failed to provide individuals with sufficient constitutional flexibility to amend their rights. The British government possessed the authority to modify or alter any right, while Indian demands for changes were not adequately addressed.
- Overall, the Government of India Act (1935) faced substantial criticism for its perceived erosion of provincial autonomy, flawed federation formation, retention of divisive practices, concentration of power, continued British control, and limited flexibility for constitutional amendments.
The Britishers gave these concessions in the Government of India Act (1935) due to several strategic considerations:
- Consolidation of Power: The British hoped that by allowing Congress leaders to taste power and distribute patronage, they would become reluctant to return to the politics of sacrifice. This was an attempt to consolidate British control over the political landscape.
- Promotion of Divisions: The reforms were intended to exploit the divisions within the Congress. By promoting dissension and splits based on different ideological factions (constitutionalist vs. non-constitutionalist, Right vs. Left), the British aimed to weaken the Congress further. They anticipated that the Left and radical elements would view the concessions as compromises with imperialism and abandonment of mass politics, leading to more strident demands. This would either result in a breakaway of the leftists from the Congress or the expulsion of radical elements by the right wing, thereby splitting and weakening the Congress.
- Creation of Provincial Leaders: Granting provincial autonomy was a strategy to create powerful provincial leaders within the Congress. By allowing them to wield administrative power and gradually learn to safeguard their prerogatives, the British hoped that these provincial leaders would become autonomous centres of political power. This would serve to decentralize authority and potentially reduce the influence of the centralized Congress leadership.
- Princely States’ Representation: The inclusion of nominated members from the princes in the Bicameral Central Legislature aimed to permanently prevent a Congress majority. By allocating a significant portion of the seats to princes’ nominees (30 to 40 per cent), the British effectively eliminated the possibility of Congress dominating the legislature. This safeguarded the interests of the princes and ensured their cooperation with British rule.
- Overall, the concessions granted in the Government of India Act (1935) were part of the British strategy to consolidate their power, exploit divisions within the Congress, create provincial power centres, and maintain control over the political landscape.
The analysis of the Government of India Act (1935) highlights several important points:
- Distortion of Federal Character: The provisions of safeguards and special responsibilities granted extraordinary powers to the executive heads at the Centre and the Provinces, which seriously distorted the federal character of the Act. Additionally, fully responsible government was not introduced at the Centre, indicating a lack of true decentralization of power.
- Provincial Government Powers: The Act replaced the Dyarchy system with responsible government in all departments at the provincial level. However, this was balanced by the wide discretionary powers given to the governors in summoning legislatures, giving assent to bills, administering tribal regions, and even taking over provincial administration indefinitely under a special provision. This curtailed the autonomy of provincial governments.
- Limited Enfranchisement: Although the electorate was expanded to 30 million, the high property qualifications resulted in only 10 per cent of the Indian population being enfranchised. This primarily benefited the rich and middle peasants in rural areas, who were seen as the main constituency for Congress politics. This led to suspicions that the Act was designed to undermine Congress by tying these important classes to British rule.
- Prince Nominees in the Legislature: In the bicameral central legislature, members nominated by the princes held a significant percentage (30 to 40 per cent) of the seats, effectively preventing a Congress majority. This was a deliberate move to maintain British control and influence over the legislative process.
- Absence of Dominion Status: The Act did not explicitly mention the granting of dominion status to India. While some conservatives viewed it as Britain’s abdication of empire, the Act was consciously designed to protect British interests rather than relinquishing control. The federal structure diverted Congress’ attention to the provinces while maintaining strong imperial control at the centre.
- Condemnation and Rejection: The Act of 1935 faced widespread condemnation from various sections of Indian society and was unanimously rejected by the Congress. The Congress demanded the convening of a Constituent Assembly elected through adult franchise to draft a constitution for an independent India, reflecting the dissatisfaction with the Act’s provisions.
- In summary, the Government of India Act (1935) was criticized for distorting federalism, limiting provincial autonomy, restricting enfranchisement, maintaining British control through prince nominees, and failing to explicitly grant dominion status. It faced widespread opposition and calls for a more democratic and independent constitutional process.
The Federation scheme proposed in the Government of India Act (1935) ultimately failed to materialize due to several factors:
- Princely States’ Reluctance: The Princes were hesitant to join the federation primarily because the Act did not adequately address the issue of paramountcy. As the paramount power, the British government had the authority to intervene in the affairs of the Princely States or even remove them from power if necessary. This uncertainty and potential loss of autonomy made the Princes reluctant to join the federation.
- Fear of Democratized Central Government: The Princes also had concerns about joining a central government that would be democratized. They feared that the elected leaders from British India would not sympathize with their autocratic rule and might even support democratic movements within their territories. This apprehension further deterred their participation in the federation.
- Fiscal Autonomy and Representation: Larger states were unwilling to surrender their fiscal autonomy within the federation. They did not want to give up control over their own finances and resources. On the other hand, smaller states felt that they were inadequately represented in the legislature, which created a sense of inequality within the proposed federation.
- Congress and Muslim Leaders’ Concerns: Both the Congress and Muslim leaders had reservations about the federation. Muslim leaders were concerned about Hindu domination within a federal structure that they viewed as still leaning towards a unitary system. They felt that the proposed representation in the central legislature would not adequately protect the interests of Muslim minorities. The Congress also opposed the inclusion of Princes in the federation, as it tied the fate of democratic India to the whims of autocratic rulers.
- These various factors, including the reluctance of the Princely States, and concerns about democratic governance, fiscal autonomy, and representation, contributed to the failure of the federation proposed under the Government of India Act (1935).
- In conclusion, the Government of India Act (1935) introduced significant provisions aimed at enhancing the rights and powers of Indian provinces. It represented a step towards addressing the deplorable conditions prevailing in the country at the time. The Act also played a crucial role in shaping the understanding of what a Constitution or Act should encompass, providing a foundation for Indian leaders to draft their own Constitution after independence.
- However, the Act had its shortcomings. It granted extensive discretionary powers to the Governors and Governor-General, limiting the true autonomy of the provinces. The Act failed to establish a proper federal structure, with the governor-general retaining a majority of the power. These factors undermined the desired decentralization of authority.
- Overall, while the Government of India Act (1935) had its merits in introducing certain reforms, it fell short in fully achieving its intended goals of empowering the provinces and establishing a balanced federal structure. Its limitations and the discontent it generated among various sections of Indian society ultimately led to its rejection and the demand for a more comprehensive and inclusive Constitution.
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