Government of India act (1935) – Summary

The persistent demands for Constitutional Reforms and the dislocation caused by the Non-cooperation Movement led the British Government to review the Status of Government of India Act 1919 by a commission headed by Thom Simon.

The Round Table Conferences considered the Simon Commission Report discussed the possibilities of further legislative reforms in India. After much deliberation and discussion the Government of India Act (1935) was passed.

The Government of India Act 1935, is stated to be a monument of drafting skill and constitutional insight.

The first Chief Justice of the Federal Court of India, Sir Maurice Gwyer, was its principal draftsman. The Act was based on two principles, viz., federation and parliamentary system.

The significant features of the Act included formation of All India Federation based on a Union of the British India Provinces and the Princely States, a bicameral federal legislature with disproportionate weightage to the States, Dyarchy at the Centre with important departments like defence, foreign affairs, ecclesiastical affairs etc. under reserved list. Further Governor-General retained special control (Special Responsibility) over the other subjects transferred to the elected members and was to act under the control and directions of the Secretary of State.

The Act provided for withdrawal of Dyarchy from the Provinces and Provincial Autonomy was introduced, thus providing for responsible government in all of the 11 provinces including Sindh and Orissa (newly created by this Act itself).

The Government of India Act (1935), provided for division of the legislative powers between the provincial and central legislature.

Three fold divisions of legislative powers were made. The Federal list under exclusive power of the Federal Legislature included matters, such as, external affair, currency and coinage, defence, census.

The Provincial list under exclusive jurisdiction of Provincial legislature included, police, provincial public service, education etc. The Concurrent list consisted of matters over which both the Federal and Provincial legislature had competence to legislate.

Moreover, the executive authority of a Province was also exercised by a Governor on behalf of the Crown and not as a subordinate, to the Governor-General.

The Governors were also given special powers as they could veto legislative action and legislate on their own in matters like law and order, interests of minorities the people of backward areas, the protection of the British commerce and those of the rulers of the Princely States.

The federal principle was introduced but the Centre was vested with more power. However, the Provinces enjoyed many powers that were not a subordinate authority.

The federal character, however, was seriously distorted by the provisions of safeguards and special responsibility which gave extraordinary powers to the Central and Provincial executive heads.

Moreover, the goal of Dominion Status still remained a distant dream. The restricted adult franchise based on property qualification (14% of population in British India), the system of separate electorates the provisions of safeguards were not in conformity with the democratic rights of the people.

The Congress rejected the Act because the Indian people were not consulted in its enactment and thus not being representative of their will.

The liberals criticized the Act but were willing to work the reforms as a step towards responsible government. The Muslim League also criticized the Act but was ready to give it a trial.