Constitutional experiments during the British Raj and the evolution of the Indian Constitution are important topics from which questions can be asked in the IAS exam. They form a part of both polity and history in the UPSC exam. This article gives a brief of all the important Acts that were passed by the British Parliament for India’s governance.
During this phase, the major constitutional experiment were incorporated in the following acts and regulations-
Govt. of India Act, 1858 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) Rule of company in India ended and that of the Crown began; (ii) System of double government ended. Court of Directors and the Board of Control abolished; (iii) Secretary of State for India was created. He was assisted by a 15-member Council (India Council). He was to exercise the powers of the Crown; (iv) Secretary of State to be a member of the British Cabinet; (v) Secretary of State governed India through the Governor General; (vi) Governor-General was to be called the Viceroy and was the direct representative of the Crown in India; and (vii) A unitary and highly-centralised administrative structure was created.
Highlights of Act of 1858
End of Company rule in India- The Act ushered in a new period of Indian history, bringing about the end of Company rule in India. The era of the new British Raj would last until Partition of India in August 1947, at which time all of the territory of the Raj was granted dominion status within the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India. Transfer of Power- The Act transferred the powers of government, territories and revenues to the British Crown Sovereignty of India- After the unsuccessful Sepoy mutiny of 1857, the British government took over the Indian administration from the East India Company and thus also assumed sovereignty over India. Statute for the Governance of India- In 1858 the British Parliament enacted the first statute for the governance of India, under the direct rule of the British government the government of India Act 1858.
Indian Councils Act, 1861 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) Policy of Association of Indians in legislation started; (ii) Portfolio system was introduced; (iii) For Legislation; Executive Council of Viceroy was enlarged by 6 to 12 members composed of half non-official members. Thus foundations of Indian Legislature was laid down; (iv) Legislative powers of the Presidency Government deprived in 1833 were restored; and (v) Viceroy could issue ordinances in case of emergency.
Indian Councils Act, 1892 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) Though the majority of official members was retained, the non-official members of the Indian Legislative Council were henceforth to be nominated by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and the Provincial Legislative Councils, while the non-official members of the Provincial Council were to be nominated be certain local bodies such as universities, district boards, municipalities. Beginning of representative system in India; and (ii) Council to have the power to discuss budget and of addressing questions to the Executive.
Indian Councils Act, 1909 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) This Act is also known as Morley-Minto Reforms (Lord Morley was the then Secretary of State for India and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India). (ii) It considerably increased the size of the legislative councils, both Central and provincial. The number of members in the Central Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60. The number of members in the provincial legislative councils was not uniform. (iii) It retained the official majority in the Central Legislative Council but allowed the provincial legislative councils to have a non-official majority. (iv) It enlarged the deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels. For example, members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, move resolutions on the budget, and so on. (v) It provided (for the first time) for the association of Indians with the Executive Councils of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was appointed as the law member. (vi) It introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of ‘separate electorate’. Under this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Thus, the Act ‘ legalized communalism’ and Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal Electorate. (vii) It also provided for the separate representation of presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities, and zamindars.
Govt. of India Act, 1919 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) It relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects. (ii) The central and provincial legislatures were authorised to make laws on their respective list of subjects. However, the structure of government continued to be centralized and unitary. (iii) It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts-transferred and reserved. The transferred subjects were to be ad¬ministered by the governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative Council. (iv) The reserved subjects, on the other hand, were to be administered by the governor and his executive council without being responsible to the legislative Council. (v) This dual scheme of governance was known as ‘dyarchy a term derived from the Greek word diarchy which means double rule. However, this experiment was largely unsuccessful. (vi) It introduced, for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Thus, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House (Council of State) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). The majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election. (vii) It required that the three of the six members of the Viceroy’s executive Council (other than the commander-in-chief) were to be Indian. (viii) It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans. (ix) It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education. (x) It created a new office of the High Commissioner for India in London and transferred to him some of the functions hitherto performed by the Secretary of State for India. (xi) It provided for the establishment of a public service commission. Hence, a Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants8. (xii) It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets. (xiii) It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to inquire into and re¬port on its working after, ten years of its coming into force.
- The Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral Legislature consisting of a Council of State (Upper House) and a Legislative Assembly (Lower House), each with an elected majority.
- A tremendous increase in the scope of legislative activity was witnessed and several measures of permanent benefit to the country were enacted.
- The emergence of the Central Legislature was a matter of historic importance. For the first time it gave the representatives of the people a voice in making laws and influencing governmental policies.
- It also played a great role in the shaping of the political destinies of the country.
- One important development during the period was the evolution of the office of the Speaker.
In November 1927 itself (i.e., 2 years before the schedule), the British Government announced the appointment a seven-member statutory commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon to report on the condition of India under its new Constitution. All the members of the commission were British and hence, all the parties boycotted the commission. The commission submitted its re¬port in 1930 and recommended the abolition of dyarchy, extension of responsible government in the provinces, establishment of a federation of British India and princely states, continuation of communal electorate and so on. To consider the proposals of the commission, the British Government convened three round table conferences of the representatives of the British Government, British India and Indian princely states. On the basis of these discussions, a ‘White Paper on Constitutional Re¬forms’ was prepared and submitted for the consideration of the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament. The recommendations of this committee were incorporated (with certain changes) in the next Government of India Act of 1935 Note: The report of the commission published in May 1930 was rejected by all political parties. The Indian National Congress presided over Jawaharlal Nehru at its Lahore session in 1929 had already declared complete independence or Purna Swaraj as its aim
In August 1932, Ramsay MacDonald, the British Prime Minister, announced a scheme of representation of the minorities, which came to be known as the Communal Award. The award not only continued separate electorates for the Muslims Sikhs Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europe¬ans but also extended it to the depressed classes (scheduled castes). Gandhiji was distressed over this extension of the principle of communal representation to the depressed classes and undertook fast unto death in Yeravada Jail (Poona) to get the award modified. At last, there was an agreement between the leaders of the Congress and the depressed classes. The agreement, known as Poona Pact, retained the Hindu joint electorate and gave reserved seats to the depressed classes.
Govt. of India Act, 1935 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) It provided for the adoption of dyarchy at the Centre. Consequently, the federal subjects were divided into reserved subjects and transferred subjects. However, this provision of the Act did not come into operation at all. (ii) It introduced bicameralism in six out of eleven provinces. Thus, the legislatures of Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, Assam and the United Provinces were made bicameral consisting of a legislative council (upper house) and a legislative assembly (lower house). However, many restrictions were placed on them. (iii) It further extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women and labour (workers). (iv) It abolished the Council of India, established by the Government of India Act of 1858. The secretary of state for India was provided with a team of advisors. (v) It extended franchise. About 10 per cent of the total population got the voting right. (vi) It provided for the establishment of a Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country. (vii) It provided for the establishment of not only a Federal Public Service Commission but also a Provincial Public Service Commission and Joint Public Service Commission for two or more provinces. (viii) The act set up a Federal Court in 1937.
Impact of The Govt. of India Act, 1935
- The Federal part of the 1935 Act never came into operation.
- The Princely states could not be persuaded to accede to the federation.
- As a result the Constitution of Central government in India remained the same as it was under the Act of 1919 with such modifications as were necessitated by the introduction of autonomy in the provinces.
- No Council of Ministers responsible to the legislature was appointed at the centre and the powers and functions of the Central Legislature as provided in the 1919 Act remained unchanged until the Indian Independence Act, 1947.
Indian Independence Act, 1947 :
Its major provisions included the following- (i) It ended the British rule in India and declared India as an independent and sovereign state from August 15, 1947. (ii) It provided for the partition of India and creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth. (iii) It abolished the office of viceroy and provided, for each dominion, a governor-general, who was to be appointed by the British King on the advice of the dominion cabinet. His Majesty’s Government in Britain was to have no responsibility with respect to the Government of India or Pakistan. (iv) It empowered the Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any constitution for their respective nations and to repeal any act of the British Parliament, including the Independence act itself. (v) It empowered the Constituent Assemblies of both the dominions to legislate for their respective territories till the new constitutions were drafted and enforced. No Act of the British Parliament passed after August 15, 1947 was to extend to either of the new dominions unless it was extended thereto by a law of the legislature of the dominion. (vi) It abolished the office of the secretary of state for India and transferred his functions to the secretary of state for Commonwealth Affairs. (vii) It granted freedom to the Indian princely states either to join the Dominion of India or Dominion of Pakistan or to remain independent. (viii) It provided for the governance of each of the dominions and the provinces by the Government of India Act of 1935, till the new Constitutions were framed. The do¬minions were however authorized to make modifications in the Act. (ix) It deprived the British Monarch of his right to veto bills or ask for reservation of certain bills for his approval. But, this right was reserved for the Governor-General. The Governor-General would have full power to assent to any bill in the name of His Majesty. (x) It designated the Governor-General of India and the provincial governors as constitutional (nominal) heads of the states. They were made to act on the advice of the respective council of ministers in all matters. (xi) It dropped the title of Emperor of India from the royal titles of the king of England
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