Government of India Act 1935: Main Features
On August 1935, the Government of India passed longest act i.e. Government of India Act 1935 under the British Act of Parliament. This act also included the Government of Burma Act 1935. According to this act, India would become a federation if 50% of Indian states decided to join it. They would then have a large number of representatives in the two houses of the central legislature. However, the provisions with regards to the federation were not implemented. The act made no reference even to granting dominion status, much less independence, to India.
With regard to the provinces, the act of 1935 was an improvement on the existing position. It introduced what is known as provincial autonomy. The ministers of the provincial governments, according to it, were to be responsible to the legislature. The powers of the legislature were increased. However, in certain matters like the Police, the government had the authority. The right to vote also remained limited. Only about 14% of the population got the right to vote. The appointment of the governor-general and governors, of course, remained in the hands of the British government and they were not responsible to the legislatures. The act never came near the objective that the nationalist movement had been struggling for.
Features of the Act
1. It provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units. The Act divided the powers between the Centre and units in terms of three lists—Federal List (for Centre, with 59 items), Provincial List (for provinces, with 54 items) and the Concurrent List (for both, with 36 items). Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy. However, the federation never came into being as the princely states did not join it.
2. It abolished dyarchy in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place. The provinces were allowed to act as autonomous units of administration in their defined spheres. Moreover, the Act introduced responsible governments in provinces, that is, the governor was required to act with the advice of ministers responsible to the provincial legislature. This came into effect in 1937 and was discontinued in 1939.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. It further extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women and labour (workers).
6. 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.
7. It extended franchise. About 10 per cent of the total population got the voting right.
8. It provided for the establishment of a Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country.
9. 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.
10. It provided for the establishment of a Federal Court, which was set up in 1937.
The main objectivity of the act of 1935 was that the government of India was under the British Crown. So, the authorities and their functions derive from the Crown, in so far as the crown did not itself retain executive functions. His conception, familiar in dominion constitutions, was absent in earlier Acts passed for India.
Hence, the act of 1935 served some useful purposes by the experiment of provincial autonomy, thus we can say that the Government of India Act 1935 marks a point of no return in the history of constitutional development in India.