Government of India Act 1919 or Montagu-Chelmsford Report

Share this:

Government of India Act 1919 or Montagu-Chelmsford Report| Factors responsible for the passing of this Act, Features of the Act, Shortcoming of the Act of 1919, Conclusion


• The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms Act of 1919 was a significant step towards the development of self-government in India. It was also an important landmark to the constitutional programs of our country. It was in fact, an amending act, but the amendments introduced substantive changes into the existing system.

• The year 1919 constitutes an important landmark in the constitutional history of India. It has became memorable because of four major events which shaped Indian’s future relations with Britain, The four major events were: – the Rowlatt Bills and the reign of terror in Punjab which culminated In Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy, the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as a national leader, the development of Khilafat agitation and the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms Act of 1919.

Government of India Act 1919 or Montagu-Chelmsford Report

Circumstances leading to the passing of the Montford-Reforms Act:

• The main provisions of the Act of 1919 with special reference to the nature of dyarchy to provide the necessary background for understanding the provisions of the Montford-Reforms in the proper perspective it is essential to discuss here the circumstances that led to the passing of the Act of 1919:

Following were the some factors that were responsible for the passing of this Act:

1. Failure of the Morley-Minto reforms

• The Morley-Minto Reforms Act of 1909 had a number of defects in it. It was based on the fundamental principle that the executive government should be an autocracy. It had limited the franchise and the indirect election could not instil in members a sense of amenability to the vast
population of the land. As the nominated non-official members generally voted with the government the non-official majorities in the provincial councils proved useless, The presence of the official blocs made all opposition of the elected members ineffective, this Act introduced the communal venom into the body politic of India for the first time through the communal electorates. It was a great evil. The demand for self-government was not met with by this Act.
Parliamentary Institutions were given but parliamentary ideal was not stated to be the goal of political progress.

• This Act failed within a brief span of time to satisfy the political aspirations of the Indians. The Morley-Minto Reforms indirectly proved instrumental in augmenting political unrest in India.

2. The First world war

• During the First world war (1914-1918) the Indians had remained loyal to the British. They had done everything to further the war efforts of the British Government in India. Because of the Great war the Indians had to suffer badly on account of high prices of essential economy was completely shattered during the war days. The miserable economic condition played an important role in increasing political discontent in the country.

3. General Discontentment

• On account of the prolonged First world war there was a widespread general discontentment in India. The peasants and workers were severely hit by the rising prices. Hundreds of thousands disbanded soldiers and also the employees of the war supply agencies were disgruntled towards the end of the Great war. Therefore, it was urgently necessary to satisfy these disgruntled sections of the Indian population.

4. Congress demand for more reforms

• The Indian National Congress was not at all happy with the Reforms of 1909. In 1911 the Congress approved a despatch sent by Government of India recommending the gradual extension of a large measure of self-government to the provinces. In 1913 it called for a non-official majority at the centre and elected majorities in all the provinces besides Bengal. In 1915 it declared that the time had come for the provincial councils to acquire an effective control
over the acts of the Executive Government. The Congress had fixed for itself the goal of self-government.

5. The Lucknow Pact (1916)

• This Pact brought the Congress and the Muslim League together. Their coming together gave more strength to Indian nationalism. This Pact enabled both the organizations to make a joint
demand for self-government. Because of these Pact the British rulers felt it necessary to think of the political aspirations of the Indians. It gave rise to an atmosphere of unity in the country and also provided a solid footing to the nationalist movement.

• The Congress at its Calcutta season of 1917 expressed its satisfaction over declaration and urged for the establishment of responsible government in India. The declaration was an answer to the joint demand for responsible government made by the Congress and the Muslim League. However, it differed in substance from the Lucknow Pact.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Report, 1918

Edwin_Samuel_Montagu                                            chelmsford

• E.S. Montagu and Lord Chelmsford published their report in 1918. It was criticised by Hasan imam, who presided over the special session of the Congress, held in Bombay in August, 1918. For the next eighteen months their proposals were discussed in Parliament and considered by a Franchise and Functions Committee which toured India, what emerged at the end was ‘The Government of India Act, 1919’ or the ‘Montford Reforms Act, 1919.

Features of the Act:

• Responsible government in the provinces was sought to be introduced, without impairing the responsibility of the Governor (through the governor-general), for the administration of the province by resorting to device known ‘Dyarchy’ or dual government.

• The subjects of administration were to be divided into two categories-Central and Provincial. The Central subjects were those which were exclusively kept under the control of the Central Government. The Provincial subjects were sub-divided into ‘transferred’ and ‘reserved subjects’.

Administration of Reserved and Transferred subjects:

• The Reserved Subjects were to be administered by the Governor with the help of the members of the Executive Council, who were not to be responsible to the legislature.

• The Transferred Subjects were to be administered by the Governor with the advice of ministers appointed by him from among the elected members of the legislature who were to be responsible to the legislature. They were to hold office during his pleasure and were also required to have a majority support in the legislature.

• The right of interference enjoyed by the Secretary of State in Council and the Governor-General-in-Council was very much restricted. The Reserved subjects, however, were subject to the direction, control and supervision of the Governor-General -in-Council as well as the Secretary of State for India in Council.

• 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.

• 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.

• It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate Electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christian, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.

• It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education.

• 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.

• 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 authorized the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.

• It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to inquire into and report on its working after ten years of its coming into force.

Shortcoming of the Act of 1919:

• The reforms of 1919, however, failed to fulfil the aspirations of the people in India, and led to an agitation by the Congress (then under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi) for ‘Swaraj’ or ‘self-government’, independent of the British Empire, to be attained through ‘Non-cooperation’. The shortcomings of the 1919 system, mainly, were-

• A substantial measure of devolution of power to the provinces the structure still remained unitary and centralized “with the Governor-General in Council as the keystone of the whole constitutional edifice; and it is through the Governor-General in council that the secretary of the state and, ultimately parliament discharged their responsibilities for the peace, order and good government of India.

• It was the Governor-General and not the courts who had the authority to decide whether a particular subject was Central or Provincial.

• The greatest dissatisfaction came from the working of Dyarchy in the Provincial sphere. In a large measure, the Governor came to dominate ministerial policy by means of his overriding financial powers and control over the official block in the Legislature.

• In practice, scarcely any question of importance could arise without affecting one or more of the reserved departments.

• The impracticability of a division of the administration into two water-tight compartments was manifested beyond doubt.

• The main defect of the system from the Indian standpoint was the control of the purse. Finance being a reserved subject, was placed in charge of a member of the Executive Council and not a Minister.

• There was no provision for collective responsibility of the Ministers to the Provincial Legislature.

• The minister appointed individually, acted as advisers of the Governor, and differed from members of the Executive Council only in the fact that they were non-officials.

• The Governor had the discretion to act otherwise than in accordance with the advice of his ministers; he could certify a grant refused by the Legislature or a Bill rejected by it if it was regarded by him as essential for the due discharge of his responsibilities relating to a reserved subject.


It is no wonder, therefore, that the introduction of ministerial government over a part of the Provincial sphere proved ineffective and failed to satisfy Indian aspirations.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.