The Government of India Act 1935 - A Detailed Lecture

Thu, 02/28/2013 - 20:43 -- Umar Farooq

Introduction to the Government of India Act 1935

After the release and publication of Simon Commission Report when the new Labour Government succeeded in office, it declared that the Report was not final and in order to resolve the constitutional deadlock, the matter would finally considered after consulting representatives of all the Indian communities. This would be done at a Round Table Conference in London. After holding three sessions of Round Table Conference in 1930, 1931 and 1932 respectively, their recommendations were embodied in a White Paper published in 1933, which was considered by a Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament. The government also constituted a committee of 20 representatives from British .India and 7 from Indian States including 5 Muslims. The committee went in session from April 1933 to December 1934 for deliberation and submitted its report to Parliament in the end of 1934. The Parliament debated the report and passed a bill in February 1935, which got royal assent on July 24th 1935, and it was enforced on April 1" 1937 with the name of Government of India Act 1935.

Salient Features of Govt of India Act 1935

The Government of India Act 1935 contained 32 Sections 14 Parts and 10 Schedules and consisted of 2 Major Parts. The Act introduced federal system in the centre. Its salient features are as follows:

Creation of Two New Provinces

The Act provided for the creation of two new provinces of Sindh and Orissa. The new provinces together with the NWFP formed the Governor provinces making 11 in all.

Introduction of Provincial Autonomy

In the provinces Diarchy was abolished. There was no Reserve Subjects and no Executive Council in the provinces. The Council of Ministers was to administer all the provincial subjects except in certain matters like law and orders etc. for which the government had special responsibilities. The ministers were chosen from among the elected members of the provincial legislature and were collectively responsible to it.

All India Federation

The India Act 1935 proposed to set up All Indian Federation comprising of the British Indian Provinces and Princely States. The constituent units of the Federation were 11 Governor's provinces, 6 Chief Commissioner's provinces and all those states that agreed to joint it. The States were absolutely free to join or not to join the proposed Federation. At the time of joining the Federation the ruler of the state was to execute an Instrument of Accession in favour of the Crown. On acceptance of that Instrument, the state was become a unit of the Federation. The ruler was however authorized to extend the functions of the federal authority in respect of his state by executing another instrument in its internal affairs.

Division of Federal Subjects

The scheme of federation and the provincial autonomy necessitated proper division of subjects between the centre and the provinces. The division under 1919 Act was revised and the 1935 Act contained three lists i.e. Federal, Provincial and Concurrent Legislative Lists.

Introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre

The India Act 1935 introduced Dyarchy at the centre. The Federal Subjects were divided into two categories, the Reserved and the Transferred. The former included defence, ecclesiastical affairs, external affairs and administration of Tribal Areas. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of executive councilors not exceeding three in number. The rest of the subjects were Transferred ones. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of a Council of Ministers, the number of which was not to exceed 10. The ministers were 10 he responsible to Governor General and the legislature. The Governor General by his special powers and responsibilities could dominate the ministers.

Protection of Minorities

A very significant provision was the safeguards and protective armours for the minorities. It was argued that the minorities needed protection from the dominance of the majority community. But the nationalists knew that the so-called provisions in the Act relating to safeguards were merely a trick to empower the Governor General and the Governors to override the ministers and the legislators.

Bicameral Legislature

The proposed federal legislature was bicameral body consisting of the Council of States (Upper House) and the Federal Assembly (Lower House). The strength of the Upper House was 260 out of which 104 nominated by the rulers were to represent the Indian States. 6 by the Governor General and 150 were to be elected. The lower House was to consist of 375 members, out of which 250 were to be the representatives of the British India and 125 of the Indian States. The members from the British India were to be indirectly elected who were  composed of the members of the Lower Houses of the Provincial Legislatures but were to be nominated by the rulers in case of the Indian States. Its life was 5 years unless dissolved earlier by the Governor General. 6 out of 11 provinces were given bicameral system of legislature. The Act not only enlarged the size of legislature, it also extended the franchise i.e. the number of voters was increased and special seats were allocated to women in legislature.

Establishment of a Federal Court

The India Act 1935 also provided for the establishment of a Federal Court to adjudicate inter-states disputes and matters concerning the interpretation of the constitution. It was however, not the final court of appeal. In certain cases the appeals could be made to the Privy Council in England.

Communal and Separate Electorate

The Act not only retained the separate electorate but also enlarged its scope. The Anglo-Indians and the Indo-Christians were also given separate electorate.

Supremacy of the British Parliament

The supremacy of the British Parliament remained intact under the government Act of India 1935. No Indian legislature whether federal or provincial was authorized to modify or amend the constitution. The British Parliament alone was given the authority to amend it. The Indian legislature could not best pray for a constitutional change by submitting a resolution to His Majesty's Government.

Burma Separation from India

Another important feature of the Act was that Burma was separated from India with effect from April 1937. Aden was also transferred from the administrative control of the Government of India to that of the colonial offices. Thus Aden became a Crown colony.

Abolition of the Indian Council of the Secretary of State

The Government of India Act 1935 abolished the Council of the Secretary of State for India,which was created in 1858. The Secretary of State was to have advisers on its place. With the introduction of the provincial autonomy the control of the Secretary of State over Transferred Subjects was greatly diminished. His control, however, remained intact over the powers of Governor General and Governors.