The Government of India Act 1919 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 embodied the reforms recommended in the report of the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, and the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford. The Act covered ten years, from 1919 to 1929.
Salient features of the Act were as follows:
This Act had a separate Preamble which declared that the objective of the British Government was the gradual introduction of responsible government in India.
The Act provided a dual form of government (a “diarchy”) for the major provinces. Diarchy means a dual set of governments; one is accountable, the other is not accountable.
It relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects.
It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts—transferred and reserved.
In each such province, control of some areas of government, the “transferred list”, were given to Govt. of ministers answerable to the Provincial Council. The ‘transferred list’ included agriculture, supervision of local government, health, and education. The Provincial Councils were enlarged.
At the same time, all other areas of government (the ‘reserved list’) remained under the control of the Viceroy. The ‘reserved list’ included defence (the military), foreign affairs, and communications.
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 majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election.
It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
It provided for the establishment of a public service commission. Hence, a Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.
It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets. The Franchise (Right of voting) was granted to the limited number of only those who paid a certain minimum “Tax” to the government.
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 system of the government. The Simon commission of 1927 was an outcome of this provision.
No bill of the legislature could be deemed to have been passed unless assented to by the Viceroy. The latter could, however, enact a bill without the assent of the legislature.
The Act kept the Income Tax as a source of revenue to the Central Government. However, for Bengal and Bombay, to meet their objections, a provision to assign them 25% of the income tax was made.
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 franchisee. Those people who had 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 sphere, 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 Indian federalism, as it identified the provinces as units of fiscal and general administration.