Explain the main features of Montagu-Chelmsford reforms? How far did they implement the policy of administrative devolution? (200 W/12 ½ M)

Mentor’s Comment:

This question has been asked due to 100 Years of 1919 act. The Act of 1919 (also called Montague Chelmsford Reforms) has many contributions towards constitutional development of India. The introduction should explain in general about the GoI Act 1919 with mentioning some of its contributions.

Further, the main body should contain the main features of Montague Chelmsford reforms.

Next, mention about Montague Chelmsford Reforms and administrative devolution. Like it introduced parliamentary system in India, involvement in budget making and policy formulation, participation in central legislative assembly, diarchy i.e. decentralised form of govt, elections to legislatures, separate provincial subjects, separate budget, Indians into administration etc. and bring conclusion on the basis of it.


Model Answer:


The Government of India Act 1935 had introduced several features which form the nucleus of our Constitution. But equal important is the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms (MCR) which was also known as Government of India Act 1919. The MCR stands out for proposing some of the most radical administrative changes, for giving provincial legislatures the mantle of self-governance and policy of administrative devolution.

Main Features of Montagu-Chelmsford reforms

  • advocated the need to emancipate the local governments and legislatures from central control; and to advance, by successive stages, in the direction of conferring responsible government on the provinces.
  • established the framework for devolution of powers and gave credence to the cry for self-governance.
  • elections to the legislatures were introduced
  • introduced the idea of Council of Ministers being responsible to the parliament and elucidated the principle of accountable governance by directing that the “Government of India must remain wholly responsible to Parliament.”
  • provided for partial transfer of power to the electorate through the system of Dyarchy.
  • prepared the ground for the Indian federalism, as it identified the provinces as units of fiscal and general administration.
  • made provision for classification of the central and provincial subjects.
  • introduced bicameral central legislature: Central Legislative Assembly and Council of States.
  • establishment of a Public Service Commission in India for the first time.

MCR and Administrative Devolution

  • MCR along with brought various new dimensions in Indian polity which were unknown hitherto like parliamentary system in India, involvement in budget making and policy formulation, participation in central legislative assembly, diarchy i.e. decentralised form of govt etc.
  • MCR marked the end of the policy of benevolent despotism, and thus began the genesis of the responsible government in India. Elections to the legislatures were introduced to the people and this created political consciousness among the masses.
  • Under these reforms ,The central and provincial subjects were separated and the concerned legislatures were given authority to make laws on their respective list of subjects.
  • The central and provincial budgets were separated and the provincial legislatures were authorized to enact their budgets.
  • MCR tried to get Indians in direct contact with administration for the first time and a number of Indian women got the right to franchise for the first time.
  • Notwithstanding a substantial measure of devolution of powers to the provinces, the unitary and centralized character of administration was intact.
  • The viceroy was given power to decide whether a particular subject falls under a central or a provincial category.
  • The provincial legislature could not take up for consideration of bills relating to number of subjects without the prior consent of the viceroy.
  • The diarchy in the provincial sphere miserably failed. The governor was controlling the purse by virtue of reserved subjects which were under his control.
  • It was impossible for the ministers who were handling transferred subjects to implement any progressive measure for want of funds.This defeated the very purpose of devolution.
  • The devolution of power does not mean federal distribution. The provinces got powers delegated by the central government.
  • Governor General powers were intact with no responsible government at the centre. It served no purpose for the effective devolution.

The key principles of responsible government, self-governance and federal structure grew out of these reforms. Most scholars look at the Act as the first attempt by the British to introduce administrative devolution in India albeit with significant restrictions. But at that time, the announcement of British Government, to gradually introduce a responsible government in India, shattered the Indian expectation of “Self Government or Swaraj” as reward for it’s help in WWI. It led to unrest and agitation.