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The Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms

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Introduction

War is a great catalyst in the society; its tremors are not restricted to the battlefields only. Its impact is profound and far-reaching. The First Great War (1914-18) in the winning of which India, though still a British Colony, played a significant role that intensified India’s national movement for independence to which Great Britain responded by enunciating the goal of responsible Government. The Secretary of State for India made the following announcement in the House of Commons on 20 August 1917: “the policy of this Majesty’s Government with which the Government of India are in complete accord, is that of the increasing association of Indian in every branch of the administration with a view to the progressive realization of responsible Government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”. This was a historic announcement by the colonial power marking ‘the end of one epoch and the beginning of the new one’ to quote the Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms, 1918. This proclamation was echoed in the Government of India Act, 1919, which marked a move towards the establishment of responsible Government in India by stages. A beginning was made at the provincial level and here too in half of administration – that half which was dealing with, what Montague Chelmsford Report called, ‘nation-building activities’ (read, development). In other words, ‘responsible Government was to be introduced (with suitable checks) in the provinces in that sector of administration dealing with development subjects like education, cooperatives, agriculture, animal husbandry, local self Government, public health etc.’ Indians would be entering the provincial level of administration in the developmental sector, the other half dealing with ‘reserved’ subject like law and order remaining solely with the Governor. Indian leadership would best know the felt needs of the people and thus the programmes and the schemes of development are bound to be more meaningful and realistic. As the leadership traditionally lacks administrative experiences, they were being basically political agitators who were liable to make mistakes. But the effects of such mistake would be localized and moreover they would learn from their mistakes and would be ready for larger responsibilities.

Summary

The Secretary of State for India, Lord Edwin S. Montague, followed this 1917 announcement by his visit to India to prepare the scheme of Reforms in collaboration with the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford. The Report is dealing primarily with constitutional issues and public administration is its side concern. The Montague – Chelmsford report recommended devolution of functions and authority on the provinces and further on the elected representatives of the people, thus, giving some relief to the over-burdened central Government and paving the way for the gradual inauguration of a responsible Government in India. The report propounded the view that ‘the provinces are the domain in which the earlier steps towards the progressive realization of responsible Government should be taken, some measure of responsibility should be given at once, and our aim is to give complete responsibility as soon as conditions permit.’ This involves giving the provinces the largest measure of independence in legislative, administrative and financial matters of the Government of India. While, thus, the Report recommended devolution of functions and authority from the central Government to the provinces, it favored only part of the devolved area to be made over to popular control at the provincial level knowingly or unknowingly, this was a move towards some sort of federation.

In this scheme of reforms the Civil Service operating in the ‘transferred’ subjects entered upon a new phase in its career, as it found itself working, for the first time in India, under the command of the elected representatives of the people. The bureaucracy in the country was, thus, enabled to gain an insight into its true role and functions, which is by common consensus assigned to any other Civil Service under a parliamentary democracy. Also, the representatives of the people got an opportunity, not available so far, of gaining first-hand experience of administration.

The report supported the case for increasing the Indian element in the Civil Service of the country but at the same time cautioned against bulk recruitment of Indians. It observed: ‘The characteristics which we have learned to associate with the Indian Public Services must as far as possible be maintained; and the level of officers possessed of them should be strong enough to assure and develop them in the service as a whole. The qualities of courage, leadership, decision, fixity of purpose, detached judgment, and integrity in her public servants will be as necessary as ever to India. There must be no such sudden swamping of any service with any new element that its whole character suffers a rapid alteration. As practical men, we must also recognize that there are essential differences between the various services and it is possible to increase the employment of Indians in some more than in others. The solution lies therefore in recruiting year by year such a number of Indians, as the existing member of the service will be able to train in an adequate manner and to inspire with the spirit of the whole. Again it is important that there should be so far as possible an even distribution of Europeans and Indians, not indeed between one service and another, but at least between the different grades of the same service. Apart from other considerations this is a reason for exercising caution in filling up the large number of vacancies, which have resulted from short recruitment during the last four years. We must also remember how greatly conditions vary between the provinces. In arriving at any percentage to be applied to certain services we should take into account the fact that in some provinces the admissible percentage will probably be much lower than what seems possible for the service as a whole, with the result that the percentage in other provinces must be much higher. If the Indian Civil Service be taken as an example, and if, for the sake of argument, the recommendation of the (Islington) Commission is accepted that recruitment for 25 percent of the superior posts be made in India, then to attain an all-round percentage of 25, the proportion in say Bombay, Bengal and Madras will have to be considerably more than 25 percent, because in Burma certainly and probably also in Punjab it will be much less. Indeed it seems self-evident that the actual percentage for the whole of service can only be worked out with special regard to the conditions of each province. Lastly it would be unwise to create a demand in excess of the supply. At present the number of candidates of higher quality than those who are now forthcoming for the provincial services is strictly limited, and though the opening of the more attractive services may be expected to stimulate the supply, it will still be necessary, if the present quality of the services is not to be unduly impaired, to take special steps to see that recruits are of a satisfactory standard.’

The Report laid stress on a certain percentage of recruitment of personnel to take place in India itself. Recruitment in India became a practical necessity for securing the entry of a larger number of Indians into the public services of the country. The two authors wrote: ‘For all the public services, for which there is recruitment in England open to Europeans alike, there must be a system of appointment in India. It is obvious that we cannot rely on the present method of recruitment in England to supply a sufficiency of Indian candidates. That system must be supplemented in some way or other; and we propose to supplement it by fixing a definite percentage of recruitment to be made in India.’ On the question of percentage of appointments to be made in India the Report insisted on thirty-three percent of the posts in the Indian Civil Service to be recruited for in India- an increase of eight percent on the percentage earlier recommended by the Islington Commission. In the words of the Report, ‘We have not been able to examine the question of the percentage of recruitment to be made in India for any service other than the Indian Civil Service. The Commission (i.e., Islington Commission) recommended that 25 percent of the superior posts of that service should be recruited in India. We consider that changed conditions warrant some increase in that proportion, and we suggest that 33 percent of the superior posts should be recruited for in India, and that this percentage should be increased by 11/2 percent annually until the periodic Commission is appointed which will re-examine the whole subject. We prefer this proposal to the possible alternative of fixing a somewhat higher percentage at once and of making no increase to it until the periodic Commission, which we propose, has reported. We cannot at present foresee the reorganization that may take place in the Indian Civil Service as a result of new conditions. For this reason we think it unwise to aim at attaining any definite percentages after a specified time. We prefer to fix a percentage applicable to present conditions and to commit ourselves only to a growing proportion, which will be subject to reconsideration and revision by the Commission. We have dealt only with the Indian Civil Service, but our intention is that there should be all other services now recruited from England a fixed percentage of recruitment in India increasing annually. The percentage will not be uniform for all services as the particular figures must depend upon their distinctive characters and functions.’

The overall effect of these changes would be a considerably reduced inflow of the British officers into the public services of the country. This made it necessary for India to strive to get the best of them, which should be feasible by offering them attractive emoluments and conditions of service. ‘The restriction of the number of Europeans in the services, and the constitutional changes taken together will make absolutely necessary for India to secure the very best type of European officers that she can get. We are therefore anxious that the present opportunity should be taken to do something towards restoring the real pay of the existing services to the level which proved attractive twenty years ago. We recognize and we regret that the improvement of the conditions of the European Services in India has encountered opposition from Indians. We hope and believe that if proposals for such improvement are accompanied by increased opportunities being given to Indians in the services this opposition will cease. But in any case we feel that it is necessary to do something substantial in order to improve the conditions of service and to secure the European recruitment, which we regard as essential.’

Executive Summary

The Montague-Chelmsford Report became the base of the Government of India Act, 1919 colonial India’s Constitution from 1931 till the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935. It was under the Act of 1919 that the concept of All India Services symbolized by two security services, the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Police Service became popular.

Written by upsc aspirants

January 28th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

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