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23 December 2019 marks 100 years since the Government of India Act 1919 received royal assent. The Act sought to institute the declarations of Edwin Montagu, then Secretary of State for India, made on 20 August 1917. In these, he asserted that the objective of British rule in India would be “the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”. The main elements of the Act were:

  • Transfer of some functions to provincial government, with provincial government also responsible for raising the necessary taxes to fund them.
  • Introduction of a system of “dyarchy” within provincial governments. Provincial governments were split into two sections, with a governor presiding over both. One, appointed by the Crown and responsible ultimately to the Secretary of State for India, was concerned with “reserved subjects”. The other consisted of ministers appointed by the Governor from the elected members of the provincial legislative council. This body would be responsible for “transferred subjects”.
  • Several areas, such as Bihar and Orissa and the Punjab were given a governor and a legislative council each. The size of provincial legislative councils was increased and at least 70 percent of members were required to be elected.
  • Within central government there was no dyarchy. The Governor-General’s executive council was enlarged, and the legislature itself was remodelled and made bi-cameral.
  • A commission to examine the workings of the constitution was to be appointed by Parliament after ten years, to report on whether the extent of self-government granted was to be extended, modified or restricted.

This briefing provides information about the origin of the Government of India Act 1919; an overview of some of the key provisions of the 1919 Act; and a biographical profile of the man responsible for piloting the Act through its Lords stages, the first Indian to receive a peerage, Lord Sinha of Raipur. 

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