The Government of India Act, 1935

The Government of India Act, 1935 was piloted in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare.

The Government of India Act, 1935 was a result of the following:

  • Simon Commission Report
  • Nehru Report
  • Round Table Conference
  • White Paper
  • Report of the Joint Select Committee
  • Lothian Report over Franchise

Features of the Government of India Act, 1935

All India Federation

While under previous Governments of India Acts, the Government of India was unitary, the Government of India Act, 1935 prescribed a federation, taking provinces and princely states as units. Although, it was optional for Indian states to join the Federation. Hence it never came into being.

But, provinces were now no longer delegates of Central Government but were autonomous units of administration. To this extent, Government of India assumed the role of a federal government through Indian states did not come into the field to complete the scheme of federation.

Provincial Autonomy

The Government of India Act, 1935 proposed provinces as autonomous units of administration.

The autonomy provided to the provinces meant two things. First, the Provincial Governments were wholly, responsible to the provincial legislatures and secondly, provinces, were free from outside control and interference in a large number of matters.

It ended dyarchy at the provinces introduced in the Government of India Act, 1919. The executive authority was to be exercised by a Governor on behalf of Crown and was required to act with advice of Ministers responsible to legislature.

However, the autonomy at provinces was limited as certain discretionary powers remained with the Governors appointed by the British government and the British authorities also retained a right to suspend the responsible government.

Dyarchy at Centre

 Under the Government of India Act, 1935, the Governor-General had two functions:

  1. Administration of defence, external affairs, tribal area in his discretion with the help of 'counsellors' who were not responsible to legislature.
  2. Other subject matters- on advice of 'Council of Ministers' who were responsible to legislature.

The Legislature

  1. Under the Government of India Act, 1935, the Central Legislature was bicameral, consisting of Federal Assembly and Council of States.
  2. The Council of States was to be upper house and a permanent body with one third of its membership retiring every 3rd year. It was to be composed of 260 members of which 156 were to be representatives of British India while, 101 of the Indian states.
  3. The Federal Assembly was the lower house with a tenure of five years. It was to be made of 375 members, out of which 250 were to be representatives of British India and not more than 125 members from the 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. The term of the assembly was five years but it could be dissolved earlier also.
  4. Also, in six of the Provinces, the Legislature was bicameral.

Distribution of Legislative powers between Centre and the Provinces

  1. Federal List- External Affairs, Currency and coinage, Naval, Military, Air-Force, Census.
  2. Provincial List- Police, Provincial Public Service, Education, etc.
  3. Concurrent List- Criminal Law and procedure, Civil Procedure, Marriage and Divorce, Arbitration, etc.

Defence and external affairs would remain outside the control of federal legislature, Viceroy would retain special control over these subjects.

Indian Council of Secretary of State abolished

The Government of India Act, 1935 abolished the Indian Council of Secretary of State,established by the Government of India Act of 1858.

Federal Bank was established

The Government of India act, 1935 provided for the establishment of a Federal Bank to control the currency and credit of the country.

Federal Court was established

The Government of India Act, 1935 provided for the establishment of a Federal Court which would interpret the Act and adjudicate disputes relating to the federal matters. The Act provided for a Federal Court which would consist of one Chief Justice and not more than six judges.

The Federal Court was given exclusive original jurisdiction to decide disputes between the Centre and constituent Units. The provision was made for filing of appeals from High Courts to the Federal Court and from Federal Court to the Privy Council. The Federal Court also had jurisdiction to grant Special Leave to Appeal and for such appeals a certificate of the High Court was essential.

Federal Railway Authority was established

The Government of India Act, 1935 established a Federal Railway Authority, which was vested with the control of the railways. It was to be a seven member body. The authority was created to ensure freedom from the control of ministers and councillors. The idea was to assure the British stakeholder, that their investment in railways is safe.

Reorganisation of Provinces

The Government of India Act, 1935 . reorganised the following provinces-

  1. Sindh was separated from the Bombay province.
  2. Bihar and Orissa were established as separate provinces.

Burma and Aden separated

The Government of India Act, 1935 separated Burma from India. It also detached Aden from India and established it as a separate colony.

Emergency powers to Governor-General

In case of emergency, the Governor-General under Section 102 of the Government of India Act,1935 could issue a Proclamation of Emergency and empower the Federal Legislature to make laws on Provincial subjects. He could also issue directions to the Governors to act in a manner that the peace and order of the country was not endangered.

Idea of collective responsibility introduced

Under the Government of India Act, 1935 , the Ministry was collectively responsible to the Federal Legislature.

No Dominion status

Dominion status which was promised by the Simon Commission in the year 1929, was not conferred by the Government of India Act, 1935.

Franchise to one-sixth of adults only

The Government of India Act, 1935 extended the franchise to one-sixth of the adults.

Strategy of British Government at that time

  1. They hoped that reforms would revive the political standing of the Liberals and other moderates who believed in the constitutional path.
  2. They hoped that Congressmen would be weaned away from mass political action and guided towards constitutional politics.
  3. They hoped that reforms could be used to promote dissensions and a split within the demoralised Congress ranks on the basis of constitutional vs non constitutionalist and Right vs Left.

Conclusion

The Act of 1935 was condemned by nearly all sections of Indian opinion and was unanimously rejected by the Congress. The Indian National Congress demanded instead, the convening of a constituent assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise to frame a constitution for an independent India.

The significance of Government of India Act, 1935 can be best summed up in the words of the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow himself: " After all we framed the constitution....of 1935 because we thought it the best way... to hold India to the Empire."

The Government of India Act 1935, however, had introduced several features which later formed the nucleus of our Constitution.

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