Indian Councils Act 1909

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Indian Councils Act 1909

Chapter 9 Edw. 7 c. 4
Dates
Royal Assent 25 May 1909
Other legislation
Repealing legislation Government of India Act 1915
Status: Repealed

The Indian Councils Act 1909 (9 Edw. 7 c. 4), commonly known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that brought about a limited increase in the involvement of Indians in the governance of British India.

Morley-Minto Reforms

John Morley, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, and the Conservative Governor-General of India, The Earl of Minto, believed that cracking down on uprising in Bengal was necessary but not sufficient for restoring stability to the British Raj after Lord Curzon's partitioning of Bengal. They believed that a dramatic step was required to put heart into loyal elements of the Indian upper classes and the growing Westernised section of the population.

They produced the Indian Councils Act of 1909 (Morley-Minto reforms), these reforms did not go any significant distance toward meeting the Indian National Congress demand for 'the system of government obtaining in Self-Governing British Colonies'. The act is also sometimes called minto-Morley reform but that is not the correct citation. The Act of 1909 was important for the following reasons:

  • It effectively allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time. Previously some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils. The majorities of the councils remained British government appointments. Moreover the electorate was limited to specific classes of Indian nationals;
  • The introduction of the electoral principle laid the groundwork for a parliamentary system even though this was contrary to the intent of Morley. As stated by Burke and Quraishi

“To Lord Curzon's apprehension that the new Councils could become 'parliamentary bodies in miniature', Morley vehemently replied that, 'if it could be said that this chapter of reforms led directly or indirectly to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I for one would have nothing at all to do with it'. But he had already confessed in a letter to Minto in June 1906 that while it was inconceivable to adapt English political institutions to the 'nations who inhabit India...the spirit of English institutions is a different thing and it is a thing that we cannot escape, even if we wished...because the British constituencies are the masters, and they will assuredly insist... all parties alike... on the spirit of their own political system being applied to India.' He never got down to explaining how the spirit of the British system of government could be achieved without its body.”

  • Muslims had expressed serious concern that a first past the post electoral system, like that of Britain, would leave them permanently subject to Hindu majority rule. The Act of 1909 stipulated, as demanded by the Muslim leadership
  • that Indian Muslims be allotted reserved seats in the Municipal and District Boards, in the Provincial Councils and in the Imperial Legislature;
  • that the number of reserved seats be in excess of their relative population (25 percent of the Indian population); and,
  • that only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats ('separate electorates').

These concessions were a constant source of strife from 1909 to 1947. British statesmen generally considered reserved seats as regrettable in that they encouraged communal extremism as Muslim candidates did not have to appeal for Hindu votes and vice versa. As further power was shifted from the British to Indian politicians in 1919, 1935 and afterward, Muslims were ever more determined to hold on to if they could not expand the reserved seats and their weightage. However, Hindu politicians repeatedly tried to eliminate reserved seats as they considered them to be undemocratic and hindering the development of a shared Hindu-Muslim Indian national feeling.

In 1906, Morley announced in the British parliament that his government wanted to introduce new reforms for India, in which the locals were to be given more powers in legislative affairs. With this, a series of correspondences started between him and Lord Minto, the then Governor General of India. A committee was appointed by the Government of India to propose a scheme of reforms. The committee submitted its report, and after the approval of Lord Minto and Lord Morley, the Act of 1909 was passed by the British parliament. The Act of 1909 is commonly known as the Minto-Morley Reforms.

Major Provisions of the Act

The Act amended the Indian Councils Acts of 1861 and 1892.1 Its major provisions are as follows:

1. The member of the Legislative Councils, both at the Center and in the provinces, were to be of four categories i.e. ex officio members (Governor General and the members of their Executive Councils), nominated official members (those nominated by the Governor General and were government officials), nominated non-official members (nominated by the Governor General but were not government officials) and elected members (elected by different categories of Indian people).

1. The maximum number of nominated and elected members of the Legislative Council at the Center was increased from 16 to 60. The number did not include ex-officio members.2

2. The maximum number of nominated and elected members of the provincial legislative councils under a governor or lieutenant-governor was also increased. It was fixed as 50 in Bengal, Bombay, Madras, United Provinces, and Eastern Bengal and Assam, and 30 in Punjab, Burma, and any lieutenant-governor province created thereafter. Legislative councils were not created for provinces under a chief commissioner.3

4. The right of separate electorate was given to the Muslims.

5. Official members were to form the majority but in provinces non-official members would be in majority.

6. The members of the Legislative Councils were permitted to discuss the budgets, suggest the amendments and even to vote on them; excluding those items that were included as non-vote items. They were also entitled to ask supplementary questions during the legislative proceedings.

7. The Secretary of State for India was empowered to increase the number of the Executive Councils of Madras and Bombay from two to four.

8. Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.

9. The Governor-General was empowered to nominate one Indian member to his Executive Council.

Legislative Councils

The Governor-General, with the approval of the Secretary of State for India, made regulations for how members of legislative councils were nominated or elected nominated, and their qualifications. Regulations made in accordance with the Act could not be exercised until laid before both Houses of Parliament, so that either house might object. By the regulation of November 1909, the councils were composed as follows:4

  • India: 68 total (69 with the Governor-General). Eight ex officio members (six members of the Governor-General's council plus the Commander in Chief and Lieutenant-Governor of the province in which the council sits); 35 nominated members; and 25 elected members (12 from provincial councils and municipal committees, six from landholders in seven provinces, five from the Muslims of five provinces, and one each from the Chambers of Commerce of Calcutta and Bombay).
  • Madras: 48 total (49 with the Governor). Four ex officio members (three members of the cabinet, and the Advocate-General); 23 nominated members, of which not more than 16 were officials, and one representative of Indian commerce; two nominated experts, and 19 elected members (one elected by the Corporation of Madras, eight by municipalities and district boards, one by the University of Madras, four by landowners, one by the planting community, two by Muslims, one by the Madras Chamber of Commerce, and one by The Madras Trades Association).
  • Bombay: 48 total (49 with the Governor). Four ex officio members (there from the executive council, and the Advocate-General); 21 nominated members, of which not more than 14 were officials; two nominated experts; and 21 elected members (One elected by the Corporation of Bombay, four by municipalities, one by the University of Bombay, three by landholders, four by Muslims, one by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, one by the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, one by the Millowners' associations of Bombay and Ahmadabad, and one by the Indian commercial community).
  • Bengal: 53 total (54 with the Lieutenant-Governor). Three ex officio members of the executive council; 22 nominated members, of which not more than 17 could be officials; two nominated experts; and 26 elected members (one elected by the Corporation of Calcutta, six by municipalities, six by district boards, one by the University of Calcutta, five by landholders, four by Muslims, two by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and one by the Calcutta Trades Association).
  • United Provinces: 48 total (49 with the Lieutenant-Governor). 26 nominated members, of which not more than 20 be officials, and one representing Indian commerce); two nominated experts; 20 elected members (four elected by the large municipalities in rotation, eight by district boards and smaller municipalities, one by Allahabad University, two by landowners, four by Muslims, and one by the Upper India Chamber of Commerce).
  • Eastern Bengal and Assam: 42 total (43 with the Lieutenant-Governor). 22 nominated members, of which not more than 17 be officials, and one representing Indian commerce; two nominated experts; 18 elected members (three elected by municipalities, five by district and local boards, two by landowners, four by Muslims, two by the tea interest, one by the jute interest, and one by the Commissioners of the Port of Chittagong).
  • Punjab: 26 total (27 with the Lieutenant-Governor). 19 nominated members, of which not more than 10 to be officials; two nominated experts; five elected members (one elected by the Punjab Chamber of Commerce, one by the University of the Punjab, three by municipal and cantonment committees).
  • Burma: 17 total (18 with the Lieutenant-Governor). Six nominated officials; eight nominated non-officials (four to represent the Burmese population, two to represent the Indian and Chinese Communities, two to represent other interests); two nominated experts; and one member elected by the Burma Chamber of Commerce.

Legacy

The Indian Councils Act served as the governance structure of India for a decade. It was modified by the Government of India Act, 1912, to clarify the authority of the Governor of Bengal, to create a legislative council for the new province of Bihar and Orissa, to dispense with Parliamentary review of the creation of new legislative councils for provinces under a lieutenant-governor and to permit the creation of legislative councils in provinces under chief commissioners. The Government of India Act, 1915 consolidated 47 prior acts of Parliament relating to the governance of India into a single act of 135 sections and five schedules.5

The Montagu-Chelmsford Commission was formed in response to increasing demands in India for home rule, and issued a report in 1917. The Government of India Act, 1919 enacted the legislative reforms recommended by the Montagu-Chelmsford Report.

See also

References

  1. ^ Ilbert, Sir Courtenay Peregrine. "Appendix I: Indian Councils Act, 1909", in The Government of India. Clarendon Press, 1907. pp. 427.
  2. ^ Ilbert, Sir Courtenay Peregrine. "Appendix I: Indian Councils Act, 1909", in The Government of India. Clarendon Press, 1907. p. 430.
  3. ^ Ilbert, Sir Courtenay Peregrine. "Appendix I: Indian Councils Act, 1909", in The Government of India. Clarendon Press, 1907. pp. 430.
  4. ^ Ilbert, Sir Courtenay Peregrine. "Appendix II: Constitution of the Legislative Councils under the Regulations of November 1909", in The Government of India. Clarendon Press, 1907. pp. 432-5.
  5. ^ Ilbert, Sir Courtenay Peregrine. The Government of India, Third Edition, revised and updated. Clarendon Press, 1922. pp. 119-122.

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