The GoI (Government of India) Act 1919 was an act of the British Parliament which was first announced in 1918.
In 1917, for the first time, the British Government declared that its objective was to gradually introduce reforms and responsible government in India, but as an integral part of the British empire.
The British government announced further constitutional reform in 1918 known as the Montagu-Chelmsford reform. Based on that reform, the GoI (Government of India) Act 1919 was enacted.
The act enacted reform at the central and provincial levels.
Important features of the GoI Act, 1919
The main features presented under the act were as follows-
- No responsible government was envisaged under the act at the all-India level.
- The Governor General is considered as Chief Executive Authority.
- The entire administration system was divided into two lists i.e., Central and Provincial.
- The viceroy’s executive council was expanded and three out of eight were to be Indians.
- Reserved subjects fall under the entire control of the governor-general.
- Bicameral Legislation was introduced at the Centre which consists of a council of state (Upper House) and a Legislative Assembly (Lower House). In each house, the majority of members were to be directly elected. That clearly means a ‘direct election’ was introduced.
- Though the direct election was introduced, the franchise was very limited being based on qualifications of property, tax, or education.
- Legislators could ask supplementary questions and vote on a part of the budget, but 75% of the budget was still not voteable.
- Dyarchy i.e., the rule of two was introduced at the provincial level.
- The entire subject was divided into two lists i.e., reserved and transferred subjects.
- Reserved Subjects were to be administered by Governor through his executive council. Reserved List includes subjects such as Law and Order, Finance, Irrigation, Land Revenue, etc.
- Transferred subject to be administered by the ministered nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council. The transferred List includes subjects like- Local Government, Education, Health, Industry, Agriculture, Excise, etc.
- Responsible government at the provincial level was introduced. Under this, ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and they had to resign if a no-confidence motion was passed against them. But the executive councilors were not to be responsible to the legislature.
- Governor could take over the administration of transferred subjects also in case of failure of constitutional machinery in the province.
- Legislative Council at the province level was further expanded and 70% of the members were elected.
- Further consolidation of Communal and Class Electorates.
- Under this act, Women were also granted the right to vote.
- The legislative council was given the power to initiate legislation but the assent of the governor was still required.
- The governor could issue ordinances and veto bills as well.
Under the GoI Act of 1919, the salary of the Secretary of State of India which was earlier paid from the Indian Revenue now on was to be paid out of the British Exchequer. (Payment of Secretary of State in India through Indian Revenue was introduced in the Charter Act of 1793).
The principle of communal representation known as the separate electorate was first introduced under the Government of India Act 1909, and under the GoI Act of 1919, the separate electorate was further extended to Sikhs, Christians, and Anglo-Indians besides Muslims.
For the first time, the Government of India Act of 1919 separated the Provincial and Central budgets and authorized the Provincial Government to make its budget.
A high commissioner for India was appointed and was assigned the duty to look after Indian Trade in Europe.
Significance of the GoI Act, 1919
Indians’ awakening: Indians learned about administration in secret and became conscious of their responsibilities.
As a result, Indians developed a sense of nationalism and an awakening, and they made progress toward reaching the objective of Swaraj.
Voting rights were expanded as India’s election regions grew and more people realized the value of voting.
The Act made it possible for India’s provinces to exercise their own self-government
It gave Indians the skills they needed to carry out their duties in the provincial administration.
Drawbacks of the Government of India Act, 1919
The reform made under the GoI (Government of India) act 1919 had many drawbacks.
- No responsible government was envisaged at the all-India level.
- At Central Level, the legislature poses no control over the viceroy and his executive college.
- The central legislature had no power to replace the government and even its powers in the field of legislation and financial control were limited and are also subject to the overriding powers of the governor-general.
- The governor general had the power to secure the enactment of laws that he considered essential for the safety or interest of British India.
- In comparison to the estimated 260 million people living in India, the electorate for the central legislature was expanded to approximately 1.5 million people only.
- At the center, the division of subjects is not satisfactory and considered inappropriate.
- Allocation of seats for the central legislature to provinces was based on the ‘importance’ of provinces i.e., Punjab’s military importance and Bombay’s commercial importance were more than other areas.
- The provincial government holds no control over the financial matters and over the bureaucrats which leads to constant friction between the two.
Reaction of Congress
In a special session in August 1918 at Bombay under Hasan Imam’s presidency, congress declared the GoI Act 1919 or Montague- Chelmsford reform to be ‘disappointing’ and ‘unsatisfactory’. Instead of reform presented, congress demanded effective self-government.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak- Termed the reform as “unworthy and disappointing- a sunless dawn”.
Annie Besant- ” Unworthy of England to offer and India to accept”.
M.K. Gandhi- “The Montford reform was only a method of further draining India of her wealth and of prolonging her servitude”.
Article Written By: Priti Raj