Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 | Government of India Act, 1919

Montague-Chelmsford Reforms
  • The Montagu-Chelmsford (or Mont-Ford) Reforms, an act of constitutional reform enacted in 1919, were created by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State, and Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy.
  • Those reforms became effective in 1921 when the Montagu-Chelmsford Act was passed.
  • This Act was solely intended to ensure Indian representation in government.
  • A variety of reforms were introduced with the Act, both centrally and provincially.

Characteristics of the Act

Central Level Government:

  • Subjects:
    • Those matters that were of national importance or concerned more than one province were governed at the central level, such as:
      • Foreign Affairs, Defence, Political Relations, Communications, Public Debt, Criminal Law, Wire Services, etc.
    • The Act strengthened the Central Legislature’s power and strengthened its representation.
  • Executive:
    • According to the Act, the Governor-General is the chief executive.
      • There had to be an Executive Council of the Viceroy consisting of eight members, of which three were to be Indians.
      • In addition to restoring grants, the governor-general could certify bills rejected by the central legislature and issue ordinances.
  • Reforms in Legislature:
    • Bicameral Legislature: The Act introduced the two houses of legislature; the Lower House or Central Legislative Assembly and the Upper House or Council of State.
    • The new reforms allowed legislators to ask questions and introduce supplements, pass adjournment motions and vote on a part of the budget, but 75% of it cannot be voted upon.
    • Legislators had virtually no control over the Governor-General and his Executive Council.
    • Lower House composition: The Lower House would consist of 145 members who would either be nominated or indirectly elected from the provinces. It would have a three-year term.
      • 41 nominees (26 official and 15 non-official)
      • 104 elected (52 generals, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, and 20 specials).
    • Upper House composition: The Upper House would have 60 members. Its members would serve for a period of five years and could only be men.
      • 26 nominees
      • There were 34 elected (20 Generals, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans, and 1 Sikh).
  • Powers of Viceroy:
    • The Viceroy addressed the Legislature.
    • His actions would include calling for meetings, adjourning meetings, or repealing the Legislature altogether.
    • Its term was 3 years, which could be extended by the Viceroy if he so wished.
  • Powers of Central Legislature:
    • The central government exercised unrestricted control over the provinces.
    • A Central Legislature was authorised to make laws for all of India, for all Officers and common people, whether they were in India or not.
  • Restrictions on Central Legislature:
    • Certain restrictions were imposed on the legislature:
      • To introduce a bill, such as an amendment to an existing law or an amendment to an ordinance, foreign relations or relations with Indian states, it was necessary to get the Governor General’s approval.
    • The legislature of India cannot amend or reverse any law passed by the British Parliament in relation to India.

Provincial Level Government:

  • Subjects:
    • This covered matters relating to a particular province, such as:
      • Health, Local Self-Government, Education, General Administration, Medical Facilities, Land Revenue, Water Supply, Famine Relief, Law and Order, Agriculture, etc.
  • Introduction to Diarchy:
    • In the Act, the executive is governed by diarchy (rule based on two individuals/parties).
    • Eight provinces were governed by the diarchy:
      • The Central Provinces, United Provinces, the Central Provinces, Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, Bombay, Madras, and Punjab.
    • Dyarchy gave more power to the provincial governments.
    • The governor was to be the executive head of the province.
  • Division of Subjects:
    • There were two lists of reserved and transferred subjects.
      • Those subjects were to be administered by the governor via his executive council of bureaucrats under the reserved list.
        • Among the subjects were law and order, finance, land revenue, irrigation, etc.
        • The Provincial Executive reserved all important subjects.
      • The transferred subjects were to be administered by ministers from the legislative council elected by their constituents.
        • The subjects covered included education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, etc.
    • The governor could also take over the administration of transferred subjects if the constitutional machinery in a province fails.
  • Restriction in Interference:
    • While the Secretary of State for India and the Governor General may intervene in respect of reserved subjects, their role in respect of transferred subjects is limited.
  • Reforms in Legislature:
    • There was an expansion of provincial legislative councils and 70% of members were to be elected.
    • Community and class electorates were further consolidated.
    • The legislative councils could reject the budget, but the governor could restore it if needed.
    • Legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.
    • Allowed Provincial Councils to determine if women could vote, provided they met stringent property, income, or educational levels.
  • Powers of the Governor:
    • Ministers could be overruled by the Governor for any special reason the Governor deemed appropriate. He also had complete control over the finances.
    • Legislation could only be initiated by legislative councils with the governor’s consent.
    • Bills and ordinances could be vetoed by the governor.

Importance of the Act

  • The Indians became aware of their duties after receiving secret information about administration.
    • Indians were instilled with a sense of nationalism and awakening as they progressed towards achieving Swaraj.
  • Expansion of voting rights: Voting areas in India expanded, and more people understood the benefits of voting.
  • India’s first provincial self-government was established by this Act.
    • In the Act, the people gained power over administration and the government’s administrative pressure was greatly reduced.
    • As part of the provincial administration, the program prepared Indians for their roles.

Drawbacks of the Act

  • The Act does not provide for a responsible central government at the all-India level.
  • Communalism spread: the flawed electoral system and limited franchise failed to gain popularity. This promoted the notion of communal membership.
  • Extension of voter registration: The electorate for the central legislature was extended to some one and a half million, while the population of India is around 260 million, according to one estimate.
  • The viceroy and his executive council were not subject to any legislative oversight at the centre.
    • Provincial ministers had no control over finances or bureaucrats, leading to friction between them.
    • Sometimes the ministers were not consulted about important matters as well, and the governor could override them on any matter he considered important.
    • The Governor had unrestricted powers; he could also overrule the decision of his council and ministers.
      • The governor was responsible for almost all administrative matters.
  • Inappropriate Division of Subjects: The division of subjects was not satisfactory at the center.
    • The central legislature had very little power and no control over finances.
    • It was illogical and impossible to administer two parts of a province simultaneously.
      • The subjects of irrigation, finance, police, press, and justice were reserved.

Outcomes of the Act

  • In August 1918, under Hasan Imam’s presidency, the Congress met in special session at Bombay and declared the reforms to be “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” and demanded effective self-government in its place.
    • Bal Gangadhar Tilak described the Montford reforms as “unworthy and disappointing – a sunless dawn.”.
    • Annie Besant believed that the reforms were “unworthy of England to offer and India to accept”.
    • Congress leaders led by Surendranath Banerjea were in favor of accepting the government’s proposals.
  • The Act encouraged both Indians and British to fight for power.
    • From 1922 to 1927, a large number of communal riots took place as a result.
    • The Swaraj Party was founded in 1923 and won a significant number of seats in the elections, only Madras was excluded.
      • The majority of other supplies with the salaries of ministers were blocked in Bombay and Central Provinces.
      • Thus, the governors of both provinces were forced to abolish the diarchy regime and take the transferred subjects in under their control.
  • While the government of India tried to appease the Indians with the Rowlatt Act, it prepared to impose repression.
    • Repression of nationalists continued during the war. Terrorists and revolutionaries were hunted down, hanged, and imprisoned.
      • Other nationalists such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were also imprisoned.
    • In response, the government bought itself further-reaching powers in order to suppress those who would reject official reforms in defiance of the established principles of the rule of law.
    • The Rowlatt Act was passed in March 1919, despite the opposition of every single Indian member of the Central Legislative Council.
      • Under this Act, the government could imprison anyone without trial and conviction in a court of law.
      • Through the Act, the government was able to suspend Habeas Corpus, a fundamental principle of British civil liberties.
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