The Government of India Act, 1919 also known as Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was passed to expand participation of Indians in the government of India.
The Act provided a dual form of government (a “diarchy”) for the major provinces. In each such province, control of some areas of government, the “transferred list”, were given to a Government of ministers answerable to the Provincial Council. The ‘transferred list’ included agriculture, supervision of local government, health, and education. The Provincial Councils were enlarged. These reforms represented the maximum concessions the British were prepared to make at that time. The franchise was extended, and increased authority was given to central and provincial legislative councils, but the viceroy remained responsible only to London.
Salient features of the Act were as follows:
- This Act had a separate Preamble which declared that Objective of the British Government is the gradual introduction of responsible Government in India.
- Diarchy was introduced as Provincial Level. Diarchy means a dual set of governments one is accountable another is not accountable. The provincial subjects were divided into two groups: One was reserved and another was transferred. The reserved subjects were kept with the Governor and transferred subjects were kept with the Indian Ministers. This division of subjects was basically what they meant by introducing the Diarchy.
- The Government of India Act of 1919, made a provision for classification of the central and provincial subjects. The Act kept the Income Tax as the source of revenue to the Central Government. However, for Bengal and Bombay for which, to meet their objections, a provision to assign them 25% of the Income-tax was made.
- No bill of the legislature could be deemed to have been passed unless assented to by the governor general. The later could, however, enact a Bill without the assent of the legislature.
- This Act made the central legislature bicameral. The lower house was the Legislative Assembly, with 145 members serving three-year terms (the model for today’s Lok Sabha); the upper house was the Council of States with 60 members serving five-year terms (the model for today’s Rajya Sabha)
- The Act provided for the establishment of a Public Service Commission in India for the first time.
- This act also made a provision that a statutory commission would be set up at the end of 10 years after the act was passed which shall inquire into the working of the system of the government. The Simon commission of 1927 was an outcome of this provision.
- The communal representation was extended and Sikhs, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians were included. The Franchise (Right of voting) was granted to the limited number of only those who paid certain minimum “Tax” to the government.
- The seats were distributed among the provinces not upon the basis of the population but upon the basis of their importance in the eyes of the government, on the basis of communities, and the property was one of the main basis to determine a franchise. Those people who had a property, taxable income & paid land revenue of Rs. 3000 were entitled to vote.
- The financial powers of the central legislature were also very much limited. The budget was to be divided into two categories, votable and non-votable. The votable items covered only one third of the total expenditure. Even in this spher, the Governor-General was empowered to restore any grant refused or reduced by the legislature, if in his opinion the demand was essential for the discharge of his responsibilities. Thus the Government of India Act provided for partial transfer of Power to the electorate through the system of diarchy. It also prepared the ground for the Indian Federalism, as it identified the provinces as units of fiscal and general administration.