The Government of India Act, 1935 marks a point of no return in the history of constitutional development in India. The British Government passed this Act in 1935. At that time it contained 321 sections and 10 schedules in total and was termed as the lengthiest Act. But due to its lengthiness, it was tough for higher authorities to make the regulation efficiently. Thus the government divided it into two parts, first, the Government of India Act, 1935 and second, the Government of Burma Act 1935.
Before the country got divided into two parts i.e. India and Pakistan, it was the only Act that regulated us and also known as the last Constitution of British India. It is also known as the ‘Interim Constitution of India’ because before the formation of our Constitution India ran on the rules and regulations written under this Act. It governed India from August 1935 to January 1950.
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Before the emergence of the Government of India Act 1935, our country was ruled by the Government of India Act, 1919. At that time, India had 11 provinces and 565 princely states in total. These princely states were not colonies under British rule; moreover, they had a suzerainty agreement between them which gave princely states the power to rule the kingdom the way they wished. In other words, we can say that they practice autonomy in their decisions but on the other hand, these 11 provinces had no legal and political freedom with them. They were supposed to follow what the British Government imposed on them.
When Mahatma Gandhi came back to India from South Africa in 1915, the demand for freedom rose to its height. Many eminent leaders, their followers, and the public at large with Mahatma Gandhi asked the British Government for reforms in the existing system and demanded Indian federation. In the name of reforms, the Britishers passed an Act known as ‘the Government of India Act 1919’. Under this Act, ‘dyarchy’ has been imposed on us instead of provincial autonomy, they set up a council of states in the name of bicameralism where Indians got only advisory powers but not the legislative powers. Again, Indians did not get what they asked for and failed to form the federation.
HOW DID THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ACT 1935 CAME INTO FORCE?
The National leaders were asking for the Act which could fulfill their aspirations and bring them out of the clutches of the British government. But after reviewing the complete Act of 1919, they became unsatisfied and this would result in a lot of contravening opinions which led to the Rowlatt Act in the same year. Mahatma Gandhi also came up with the Non-cooperation Movement in 1920 which uplifted the unity and demand for freedom and Britishers started losing their control over Indians.
Here, Britishers called Sir Simon in 1927 to handle the existing situation in the country and to revise the Act of 1919. In 1930, the Simon Commission tabled his report which was followed by three Round Table Conferences in the year of 1930, 1931, and 1932 respectively. After a lot of debates and discussions among the committee members upon the topic, they passed the White Paper on Constitutional Reforms at the end of 1934. Then the matter reached the parliament, it gave its assent over the document and that was the one which later got recognised as the Government of India Act, 1935. The material and the provisions included in this new Act were the outcomes of the Nehru Report, Lothian report, Simon Commission Report, the White papers, and the Joint Selection Commission Report.
WHAT ARE THE SALIENT FEATURES OF THE ACT?
1. 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)
- the Concurrent List (for both, with 36 items)
- Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy
2. It abolished dyarchy in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’. The Governor was the head of the executive. There was a Council of Ministers to advise him. The ministers were responsible to the provincial legislatures who controlled them. The legislature could also remove the ministers. However, the governors still retained special reserve powers and the British authorities could still suspend a provincial government. 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.
- The reserved subjects were controlled by the Governor-General who administered them with the help of three councilors appointed by him. They were not responsible to the legislature. These subjects included defence, ecclesiastical affairs (church-related), external affairs, press, police, taxation, justice, power resources, and tribal affairs.
- The transferred subjects were administered by the Governor-General with his Council of Ministers (not more than 10). The Council had to act in confidence with the legislature. The subjects in this list included local government, forests, education, health, etc.
- However, the Governor-General had ‘special powers’ to interfere in the transferred subjects also.
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. It further extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women, and labour (workers). 
5.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 and this Act introduced direct elections in India for the first time. About 10 percent of the total population got voting rights.
6.It led to reorganization of states. Sindh was carved out of the Bombay Presidency, Bihar and Orissa were split, Burma was severed off from India and Aden was also separated from India and made into a Crown colony
7.It provided for the establishment of a Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country and a Federal Railway Authority was set up to control Indian railways.
8.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.
9.It provided for the establishment of a Federal Court, which was set up in 1937 at Delhi for the resolution of disputes between provinces and also between the centre and the provinces. It was to have 1 Chief Justice and not more than 6 judges.
HOW IT IS DIFFERENT FROM THE 1919 ACT?
- The 1919 Act talked about a Preamble whereas the Act of 1935 did not give any recognition to it.
- The Government of India Act 1935 was highly termed as the last constitution of British India hence it is not in the case of the 1919 act.
- The Act of 1935 witnessed bicameralism in some provinces under the supremacy of Britishers and on the other hand the Act of 1919 failed to do so.
- Under the 1919 Act, all decisions were taken by the head and there was no division of power but after the nationwide demand for federation and autonomy the 1935 Act came out with division of powers among people.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 1935 ACT?
This interim constitution of our country holds great importance because it abolished the dyarchy system and gave more power to Indians. Also, it was the revised version of the 1919 Act so it removed the basic loopholes which existed earlier. The introduction of three lists made the working much simplified. Apart from this, the utmost thing it did to India is that it talked about the protection of minorities including women and children and their basic rights and it was the ultimatum for freedom one more time in the minds of Indians.
WHY DID THE ACT FAIL?
The Act failed to provide a proper federal structure because all the major powers resided in the hands of the Governor-General who was not at all responsible for the working of the central legislature which brought lots of mismanagement. Also, for the law-making or amending powers or sovereign legislature, Indians were looking for so long was still in the hands of Britishers; veto power was with Viceroy. Thus, the decision-making power of Indians held no place under the Act.
According to this Act, India would turn into a federation if 50% of its states decided to join it but princely states were already enjoying their autonomy and said no when it comes to provinces’ autonomy and stayed outside the scenario.
As compared to the provisions of the 1919 Act, the Government of India Act, 1935 was an improvement in the existing situation of Indians regarding the bifurcation of powers in the lists, bicameralism, protection of minorities, right to vote, etc.
The Act was also opposed by the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League because it had many flaws and never represented the objectives that the national leaders had been struggling for. Jawaharlal Nehru mentioned that the Act seems like driving a car with all brakes but with no engine sounded true for that moment. But this surely lit the demand for independence in the minds of the people and became the major source of the modern constitution.
 Government of India Act 1935, Constitution of India, available at: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/government_of_india_act_1935_2nd%20August%201935 (last visit on Oct. 13, 2020).
 Modern Indian History NCERT Notes for UPSC, available at: https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/government-of-india-act-1935/ (last visit on Oct. 10, 2020).
 Government of India Acts United Kingdom, Britannica, available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Government-of-India-Acts (last visit on Oct. 13, 2020).
BY KHUSHI PALIWAL | UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW, MLSU