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[Answered] Did the Government of India Act, 1935 lay down a federal constitution? Discuss.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss how Government of India Act, 1935 lay down a federal constitution and its shortcomings. Conclusion. Way forward.

The Government of India Act 1935 was an important act in the history of India. As a result of several previous Governments of India Act and Round Table Conferences, the Government of India Act 1935 was introduced. It changed the Federation of India in the aspects of the structure of government, legislation and so on. It granted Indian provinces autonomy and provided for the establishment of Indian Federation. The Government of India Act, 1935, which acted as a framework did laid some federal features.

Federal features under Government of India Act 1935:

  1. All India Federation: It provided for the establishment of an All India Federation consisting of the British India Provinces and other Indian states. The States were absolutely free to join or not to join the proposed Federation. The rulers of Indian states never gave their consent and thus, the Federation envisaged by the Act never came into being.
  2. Provincial Autonomy: One redeeming feature of the new Act was that it marked the beginning of the provincial autonomy.The Act divided legislative powers between the provincial and central legislatures and within their defined sphere the provinces they were autonomous units of administration. The Ministers were not absolutely free in matter of running their departments. The Governors continued to possess a set of overriding powers.
  3. Setting up of a federal legislature: Bicameralism was introduced. The Federal Legislature was to consist of two houses. It envisaged setting up a council of states and federal assembly, with reservations in the Council of states for minorities, women and depressed classes.
  4. Distribution of Legislative Power: The act made a three-fold division of powers between the Centre and the Provinces- federal list, provincial list and concurrent list. The subjects which were of all-India interest and demanded uniform treatment were put in the federal list.
  5. Setting up of a federal court: A Federal court was also envisaged to be set up under this act so the provisions of the act could be interpreted in case of any disputes. The Federal Court established by this Act has three kinds of jurisdictions i.e. Original, Appellate and Advisory. The court had exclusive original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and its units.

Not a true federal system:

  1. Discretionary powers: The new act armed the governors and governor-general with tremendous discretionary powers and thus reduced provincial autonomy on paper. In a way the Act made the Governors so powerful that they could play the dictator if they liked. The Governors and the Governor-General continued to have the last word in the preparation of budget and allocation of funds to various departments.
  2. Legislation regarding provincial list: The Federal Legislature had the power to legislate with respect to the subjects enumerated in the Provincial List if a proclamation of emergency was made by the governor-general.
  3. Defective federation: The proposed formation of the Federation was also fundamentally defective. Entry into the federation was compulsory for the Provinces but voluntary for the Princely States. There was a lot of difference in regard to population, area, political importance and status between the provinces and the States. Whereas the British Provinces were partly autonomous units, the States were still under the autocratic rule of the Princes.
  4. Residuary powers: The allocation of residuary powers was unique. It was not vested in either of the legislatures, central or provincial. But the Governor-General was empowered to authorise, either the Federal or the Provincial Legislature to enact a law with respect to any residuary matter.

The 1935 Act was aimed to perpetuate British rule and design to appease Nationalists. The act also had regressive provisions such as separate electorate and had divide and rule as it’s guiding philosophy. An analysis of the features concludes that despite the provision to draft a federal Constitution, the Government of India Act fell short of an actual federal Constitution.

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