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Morley-Minto Reforms| Provisions of the Act, Defects of the Act, Significance of the Act, Conclusion

Introduction:

• The period between 1892 and 1909 was one of storm and stress. The Viceroyalty of Lord Curzon witnessed a lot of agitation and discontentment in the country. The same could be said about Lord Minto. The agitation against the partition of Bengal was widespread. The Government of India had to resort to very harsh measures to put down the nationalist movement in the country.

• However, the Government thought of winning over the moderates and for their purpose passed the Indian Councils Act in 1909. It was Lord Morley who piloted the Bill through the British Parliament.

Morley-Minto Reforms

Provisions of the Act:

• The Act of 1909 increased the size of the Legislative Councils. The additional members of the Governor-General’s council were increased up to a maximum of 60, those of Madras, Bengal, U.P, Bombay and Bihar and Orissa to a maximum of 50 and those of the Punjab, Burma and Assam
to 30.

• Lord Morley insisted on retaining a substantial official majority in the Imperial Legislative Council and consequently it was provided that the  Imperial Legislative Council shall consist of 37 officials and 23 non officials. Out of the 37 officials, 28 were nominated by the Governor General and the rest were to be ex-officio members were to the Governor General, 6 ordinary members of the Council, and two extraordinary  members. Out of the 32 non-official members, 5 were to be nominated by  the Governor-General and the rest were to be elected.

• The Act did not provide for any official majority in the Provincial Legislative Councils. The majority of the members were to be non-officials. However, this does not mean that there were to be non-official elected majorities in the Provincial Councils. Some of the non-officials were to be nominated by the Governor and the Government could always depend upon the unflinching loyalty of the nominated members. The Government could manage to have a working majority in the Provincial Legislative Councils with the help of the officials and the nominated non officials. To take one example, the Madras Legislative Council consisted of 21 officials and 25 non-officials. The ex-officio member was the Governor, 3 members of the Executive Council and the Advocate-General. The remaining 16 officials were nominated by the Governor. Out of the 26 non-officials 5 were nominated and only 21 were elected. It is clear that there were 26 nominated members and only 21 were elected members. Evidently, there was a nominated majority. The same applied to other Provinces.

• The act provided for separate or special electorates for the due representation of the different communities, classes and interests. The remaining seats were allotted to the municipalities and district boards which were called “general electorates”.

• The functions of the Legislative Councils were increased. Elaborate rules were made for the discussion of the budget in the Imperial Legislative Council. Every number was given the right to move any resolution grant to local Governments proposed or mentioned in the financial statement or explanatory memorandum. The Council was not permitted to discuss  expenditure on interest of debt, ecclesiastical expenditure and State Railways etc. It is to be noted that the financial statement was first referred to a Committee of the Council with the Finance Member as its Chairman. Half of its members were to be nominated by the head of the Government and the other half were elected by the non-official members of the Council.

• The members were given the right of asking question and supplementary questions for the purpose of further elucidating any point. But the Member in charge of department might refuse to answer the supplementary questions off-hand. He may demand some time for the same.

• The members were given the power to move resolutions in the Councils. These resolutions were to be in the form of a definite recommendation to the Government. They must be clearly and precisely expressed and must raise definite issues. The resolutions were not to contain arguments, inferences, ironical expressions, etc. the President may disallow any resolution or part of a resolution without giving any reason for the same.

• Rules were also framed under the Act for the discussion of matters of general public interest in the Legislative Councils. No discussion was permitted on any subject not within the legislative competence of the  particular Legislature, any mater affecting the relations of the Government of India with a foreign Power or a native state, and any matters under  adjudication by a court of law.

• The Act raised the number of the members of the Executive Council in  Bombay, Bengal, Madras. It also empowered the Government to  constitute an Executive Council for a Lieutenant-Governor’s province also.

• In the provinces, the University Senates, landlords, District Boards and Municipalities and Chambers of Commerce were to elect members. Muslims were given separate representation. Muslim members of the Legislatures were elected by the Muslims themselves.

• Disqualifications were imposed on political offenders. They could not offer themselves for election. However, the heads of the Governments were given the power to remove those disqualifications.

Defects of the Act:

• Much below expectations.

• Counterpoise of natives against natives.

• Restricted franchise and lack of direct contact between the members and their constituencies.

• Glaring inequalities.

• The existence of a strong official Bloc in the Imperial Legislative Council.

• The non-official majority in the Provincial Councils a farce.

• Importance to vested interests.

• Over-centralization of administration.

Significance of the Act:

• The above-mentioned glaring defects and severe denunciation of Minto Morley Reforms should not make us oblivious of the fact that the Act of 1909 marks an important stage in the evolution of representative institutions in our country. Despite Lord Morley’s disclaimer that he did not intend to introduce parliamentary government in India, these reforms did constitute “a decided step forward on a road leading at no distant period to a stage at which the question of responsible government was bound to present itself”. The Councils did possess the trappings of a parliamentary government without however its substance responsibility. Responsibility, of course, to some extent was transferred in the next instalment when Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms Act was passed in 1919.

• The reforms modified to some extent the bureaucratic character of the government by providing opportunities to the Indians for ventilating the grievance of the public through these Councils. Through these reforms, the Indian members could give vent to their feelings.

• Ten years of working of these Councils revealed that the Indian representatives (non-official elected members) also were equipped with high mental calibre, great debating skill and political acumen. These members of the Council not only made useful contribution to the framing of laws but also made it clear to the Britishers that Indians if given an opportunity can play useful and effective role in Indian administration.

• The inclusion of the natives in the Viceroy’s Council was in no way less significant. The admission of the Indians to the Imperial and Provincial Executive Councils not only gave them a direct share in matters of administration but also enabled them to have a peep in the secret most councils of the government hitherto concealed from the natives.

• The importance of the Act lies in its conceding the principle of election. The Government for the first time realised that no reform would satisfy Indians unless it embodied the elective principle. This was the outcome of the political agitation launched by the Indian National Congress since its inception. In fact, acceptance of this principle of election by the Britishers served as an incentive to the Congress for intensifying its activities.

Conclusion:

Lord Morley correctly describes these reforms as “the opening of a very important chapter in the history of relations of Great Britain and India” and “the turning over a fresh leaf in the history of British responsibility to India”.

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