The history of constitutional development in India begins from the passing of the Regulating Act in 1773. The Pitt’s India Act of 1784 and the successive Charter Acts from 1793 to 1853 form part of the constitutional changes under the East India Company’s rule.
The Revolt of 1857 brought about important changes in the British administration in India. The rule of the East India Company came to an end. The administration of India came under the direct control of the British Crown.
These changes were announced in the Government of India Act of 1858. The ‘Proclamation of Queen Victoria’ assured the Indians a benevolent administration. Thereafter, important development had taken place in constitutional history of India as a result of the Indian National Movement.
Government of India Act of 1858
The Government of India Act of 1858 was passed by the Parliament of England and received royal assent on 2nd August 1858. Following are the main provisions of the Act:
- East India Company’s rule came to an end and the Indian administration came under the direct control of the Crown.
- In England, the Court of Directors and Board of Control were abolished. In their place came the Secretary of State for India and India Council were established. The Secretary of State would be a member of the British cabinet. Sir Charles Wood was made the first Secretary of State for India. India Council consisting of 15 members would assist him.
- The Governor General of India was also made the Viceroy of India. The first Viceroy of India was Lord Canning.
- All the previous treaties were accepted and honoured by the Act.
Queen Victoria’s Proclamation
On 1 November 1858 the Proclamation of Queen Victoria was announced by Lord Canning at Allahabad. This royal Proclamation was translated into Indian languages and publicly read in many important places. It announced the end of Company’s rule in India and the Queen’s assumption of the Government of India.
It endorsed the treaty made by the Company with Indian princes and promised to respect their rights, dignity and honour. It assured the Indian people equal and impartial protection of law and freedom of religion and social practices. The Proclamation of Queen Victoria gave a practical shape to the Act of 1858.
Indian Councils Act of 1861
The Indian Councils Act of 1861 increased the number of members in the Governor-General’s executive Council from 4 to 5. Further the Governor-General’s Executive Council was enlarged into a Central Legislative Council. Six to twelve “additional members” were to be nominated by the Governor-General. Not less than half of these members were to be non-officials. Thus, a provision was made for the inclusion of Indians in the Legislative Council. The functions of these members were strictly limited to making legislation and they were forbidden from interfering in the matters of the Executive Council. They did not possess powers of administration and finance.
Legislative Councils were also established in the provinces. The number of additional members in the provinces was fixed between four to eight. So, this Act was an important constitutional development and the people of India came to be involved in the law-making process. The mechanism of Indian legislation developed slowly and reinforced further by the Acts of 1892 and 1909.
Indian Councils Act of 1892
The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was the first achievement of the Indian National Congress. It had increased the number of “additional members” in the Central Legislative Council. They were to be not less than 10 and not more than 16.
It had also increased the proportion of non-officials – 6 officials and 10 non-officials. The members were allowed to discuss the budget and criticize the financial policy of the government. In the provinces also the number of additional members was increased with additional powers.
Minto- Morley Reforms of 1909
The Indian Councils Act of 1909 was also known as Minto- Morley Reforms in the names of Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India and Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India. Both were responsible for the passing of this Act. It was passed to win the support of the Moderates in the Congress. The important provisions of this Act were:
- The number of “additional members” of the Central Legislative Council was increased to a maximum of 60. Elected members were to be 27 and among the remaining 33 nominated members not more than 28 were to be officials.
- The principle of election to the councils was legally recognized. But communal representation was for the first time introduced in the interests of Muslims. Separate electorates were provided for the Muslims.
- The number of members in provincial legislative councils of major provinces was raised to 50.
- The Councils were given right to discuss and pass resolutions on the Budget and on all matters of public interest. However, the Governor-General had the power to disallow discussion on the budget.
- An Indian member was appointed for the first time to the Governor-General’s Executive Council. Sir S. P. Sinha was- the first Indian to be appointed thus.
- In Bombay and Madras, the number of members of the Executive Councils was raised from 2 to 4. The practice of appointing Indians to these Councils began.
- Two Indians were also appointed to the India Council [in England].
The Minto- Morley reforms never desired to set up a parliamentary form of government in India. However, the Moderates welcomed the reforms as fairly liberal measures. The principle of separate electorates had ultimately led to the partition of India in 1947.
Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919
The political developments in India during the First World War such as the Home Rule Movement led to the August Declaration. On 20th August, 1917 Montague, the Secretary of State for India made a momentous declaration in the House of Commons. His declaration assured the introduction of responsible government in India in different stages. As a first measure the Government of India Act of 1919 was passed by the Parliament of England. This Act is popularly known as Montague-Chelmsford Reforms. At that time Lord Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India.
The main features of the Act were:
- Dyarchy was introduced in the provinces. Provincial subjects were divided into “Reserved Subjects” such as police, jails, land revenue, irrigation and forests and “Transferred Subjects” such as education, local self-government, public health, sanitation, agriculture and industries. The Reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor and his Executive Council. The Transferred subjects by the Governor and his ministers.
- A bicameral (Two Chambers) legislature was set up at the centre. It consisted of the Council of States and the Legislative Assembly. The total member in the Legislative Assembly was to be a maximum of 145, out of which 105 were to be elected and the remaining nominated. In the Council of States there would be a maximum of 60 members out of which 34 were elected and the remaining nominated.
- The salaries of the Secretary of State for India and his assistants were to be paid out of the British revenues. So far, they were paid out of the Indian revenues.
- A High Commissioner for India at London was appointed.
The most important defect in this Act was the division of powers under the system of Dyarchy in the provinces.
The Government of India Act of 1935
The Government of India Act of 1935 was passed on the basis of the report of the Simon Commission, the outcome of the Round Table Conferences and the White Paper issued by the British Government in 1933. This Act contained many important changes over the previous Act of 1919.
Following were the salient features of this Act.
- Provision for the establishment of an All India Federation at the Centre, consisting of the Provinces of British India and the Princely States. (It did not come into existence since the Princely States refused to give their consent for the union.)
- Division of powers into three lists: Federal, Provincial and Concurrent.
- Introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre. The Governor-General and his councillors administered the “Reserved subjects”. The Council of Ministers were responsible for the “Transferred” subjects.
- Abolition of Dyarchy and the introduction of Provincial Autonomy in the provinces. The Governor was made the head of the Provincial Executive but he was expected to run the administration on the advice of the Council of Ministers. Thus, provincial government was entursted to the elected Ministers. They were responsible to the popularly elected Legislative Assemblies.
- Provincial Legislatures of Bengal, Madras, Bombay, United Provinces, Bihar and Assam were made bicameral.
- Extension of the principle of Separate Electorates to Sikhs, Europeans, Indian Christians and Anglo Indians.
- Establishment of a Federal Court at Delhi with a Chief Justice and 6 judges.
The working of the provincial autonomy was not successful. The Governors were not bound to accept the advice of the ministers. In reality, the real power in the Provincial Government was with the Governor. But, despite these drawbacks in the scheme, the Congress decided to take part in the elections to the Provincial Legislatures with the consideration that it was an improvement over the previous Acts.
In accordance with the provisions of the Government of India Act of 1935 elections to the Provincial Legislatures were held in February 1937. The Congress had virtually swept the polls. On 7 July 1937, after the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, assured the Congress of his cooperation, the party formed its ministries in seven provinces.
- Module-3 Modern India by NIOS
- Modern India by Bipin Chandra
- Class-12 Tamil Nadu State Board History Book