Indian councils Act of 1909, also called Morley-Minto Reforms, series of reform measures enacted in 1909 by the British Parliament, the main component of which directly introduced the elective principle to membership in the imperial and local legislative councils in India. The act was formulated by John Morley, secretary of state for India (1905–10).
In Great Britain the Liberal Party had scored an electoral victory in 1906 that marked the dawn of a new era of reforms for British India. The relatively new secretary of state—hampered though he was by Lord Minto, the British viceroy of India (1905–10)—was able to introduce several important innovations into the legislative and administrative machinery of the British Indian government. Implementing Queen Victoria’s promise of equality of opportunity for Indians, he appointed two Indian members to his council at Whitehall: one a Muslim, Sayyid Husain Bilgrami, who had taken an active role in the founding of the Muslim League; and the other a Hindu, Krishna G. Gupta, a senior Indian in the Indian Civil Service (ICS).
Though the initial electorate base designated by the 1909 act was only a small minority of Indians authorized by property ownership and education, in 1910 some 135 elected Indian representatives took their seats as members of legislative councils throughout British India. The act also increased the maximum additional membership of the Imperial Legislative Council from 16 to 60. In the provincial councils of Bombay, Bengal, and Madras, the permissible total membership had been earlier raised to 20 by the Indian Councils Act of 1892. That number was raised to 50 in 1909, even though a majority of the members were to be unofficial. The number of council members in other provinces was similarly increased.
Lord Minto and his officials in Calcutta and Simla wrote strict regulations for the implementation of the reforms and insisted on the retention of executive veto power over all legislation. Elected members of the new councils were empowered. Members were also permitted to introduce legislative proposals.
CAUSES OF REFORMS:
Separate electorates are that type of elections in which minorities select their own representatives separately, as opposed to joint electorates where people are selected collectively. When minorities fear that they would not get representation in state affairs and government then they demand separate electorates. Same was the case with the Indian Muslims. They were very large in number, but in case of combined elections they would not get due representation. When the British implemented the system of democracy in India in order to strength their rule, and to involve local people in government, the Muslims demanded separate electorates. These were not imposed by British, however were granted on the request of the Muslims.
By 1909, there was seen a great deal of political consciousness among the Indians. Similarly, political parties like Indian National Congress and All Indian Muslim League had emerged. By then, the British were much influenced and affected by these political parties. As previous reforms and acts did not meet the political aspirations of all the Indians, the British realized that in order to introduce new reforms to impoverish the grievances of the Indians they needed to accommodate to these two political parties. Besides this, there were also other factors which led to the formation of Minto-Morley Reforms.
The main purpose of these reforms was to stabilize the British rule in India while granting some representation to the Indians in the legislation.
The following were the main features of the Act of 1909:
The number of the members of the Legislative Council at the Center was increased from 16 to 60.
The number of the members of the Provincial Legislatives was also increased. It was fixed as 50 in the provinces of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, and for the rest of the provinces it was 30.
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).
Right of separate electorate was given to the Muslims.
At the Center, official members were to form the majority but in provinces non-official members would be in majority.
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.
The Secretary of State for India was empowered to increase the number of the Executive Councils of Madras and Bombay from two to four.
Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
The Governor General was empowered to nominate one Indian member to his Executive Council.
The following were the consequences of the Minto-Morley Reforms:
Separate Electorate was accepted for minorities.
The preparation of separate electoral rolls was ordered.
The Legislative Councils were expanded.
The authority of the Council was enhanced. The members were given more liberties. Members were allowed to present Resolutions, discuss Budget and put up questions.
The Viceroy’s Council’s membership was fixed at sixty members.
The membership of the provinces of Bengal, U.P., Bihar, Bombay, Madras and Orissa was fixed at 50 members whereas the membership of the provinces of Punjab, Burma, and Assam was fixed at 30 members.
The Indian were included in the Executive Council of the Viceroy and in the provincial Executive Councils.
The local bodies, trade unions and universities were allowed to elect their members.
Limited Governors were appointed in Bengal, Bombay and Madras. These provinces were given right to form their own Councils.
The importance and utility of Minto-Morley Reforms cannot be set aside because of some weaknesses in the scheme. It accede the Muslims, their much cherished demand, the separate electorate in the provinces where legislative councils existed. The Muslim League performed in a commendable manner by achieving major demands of the Muslims after only two years of its inception. It scored an amazing political triumph within a short time of its political struggle. The separate electorate set the course of Muslim freedom movement which culminated in the shape of Pakistan after a forty years intense struggle. It also gave strength to the Two-Nation Theory which became the basis of Muslim freedom struggle.