Indian Statutory Commission

Indian Statutory Commission a Parliamentary Commission (1927) consisting of seven members of Parliament from both sides of the aisle to study Indian problem in India and report on constitutional reforms in India. It is also known as the simon commission, after the name of its Chairman Sir John Simon.

The educated public opinion in India had long been clamouring for an examination and revision of the dyarchy constitution, the constitution itself had laid down that after the expiration of ten years a commission should be appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the working of the system of government, the growth of education, and the development of representative institutions in India. In the absence of any Indian member in the commission its acceptability to educated Indians was doubtful from its very inception. In fact, the commission met with wide-scale hostility as soon as it landed in Bombay. The Indian opposition to the commission was mitigated partially as Indians were invited to participate in the deliberations of the commission in some advisory roles through holding joint conferences.

The commission produced some voluminous reports after its two historic visits to India in 1928-29. The commission's seventeen volume comprehensive reports, published in 1930, were drawn from interviews of numerous officials in the central and provincial governments and of prominent public men and political and religious leaders representing different regions and from their recorded statements, representations and memoranda. In spite of the commission's failure to affect any reform, the reports contain primary materials of historical importance.

The commission recommended the abolition of dyarchy and the introduction of representative government in the provinces. It disapproved the idea of communal representation but recommended its retention until such time as the Hindus and the Muslims should settle the issue between themselves. Depressed classes or lower caste Hindus were granted reserved seats in the legislature. Considering the fact that the commission was not looked at favourably by educated Indians, especially the Congress's demand for meaningful political reforms and considering also the increasing communal tangle, the British government opted for another initiative. Before the publication of the report of the commission, the British Government announced that the natural outcome of the constitutional progress was the attainment of Dominion Status, and that Indian opinion would be consulted on constitutional progress in India. That announcement, made even before the announcement of the commission's Report, rendered the commission's work an academic exercise without any practical utility.

Nevertheless, the Simon Commission Report constitutes yet another extensive desideratum on many aspects of Indian political and socio-economic conditions of the twenties. However, the most useful volume from Bengal's standpoint was volume VIII, the Memorandum Submitted by the Government of Bengal to the Indian Statutory Commission. In the first part of this volume the Government of Bengal presented collected materials in its endeavour to describe the working of the system of government introduced by the reforms of 1919. The second part contained the suggestions of the Bengal Government they had made for revision of the constitution, based on its experience of the past seven years of the working of the constitution.

The memorandum drew attention to the peculiarities of Bengal, eg, the permanent settlement of the land revenue, the growth of a great industrial and commercial community in and near the port of Calcutta, and the almost equal division of the population between the two great communities, the Hindus and the Muslims. Each of these features, the memorandum pointed, impacted on the financial, economic, and political aspects of the province rather significantly.

Referring to the social and economic structure of Bengal, the memorandum pointed to the unequal development of Hindus and Muslims in matters of education. Although a great many in the Muslim population were cultivators and were contributing to the economic stability of the province, they lacked in western education. Also, the Muslim middle class was comparatively small and uneducated and was consequently not able to compete with the more educated Hindu middle class. This difference resulted in discernable differences in cultural outlook in the two communities.

The Government of Bengal also pointed to the prevalence of communal and racial animosity in the province, and noted that the prospects of a new struggle for political power made leaders unwilling to curb the intolerance of the masses. The memorandum regretted that although transference of district boards and municipalities to popular control was completed, the rural masses for whom those boons were intended, could not in effect participate in them. The position of the district officials was partially compromised by the transfer of self-governing bodies to popular control, but they still continued to be the most powerful element in the administration.

Financial difficulties of the province were also analyzed in the memorandum. The main taxable resources of the province, and receipts from custom and income tax went to swell the central revenue. Bengal also suffered from limited land revenue due to the consequences of the Permanent Settlement. The consequence was meagre allocation of revenue in public health, education, and other matters of public welfare, which in effect prevented developments in the electorate, the legislature, or the press, of any favourable feeling towards reforms.

The memorandum also highlighted the difficulties of governance due to the obstruction created by the Congress and the Swarajists who vowed to wreck the constitution from within. It concluded that the task of framing a constitution that will bring harmony within the social, economic, and political life of the province was a challenging task and would require assurances of good government.

Another relevant segment of the commission's Report is the Report of the Bengal Committee included in volume III, Reports of the Committees appointed by the Provincial Legislative Council to Co-operate with the Indian Statutory Commission. Bengali members of the Bengal Committee included ak fazlul huq, Abul Kassem, Bhupendra Narayan Sinha, Sashi Kanta Chaudhuri, and KGM Faruqui. Following a prolonged deliberation, the committee recommended the following: complete provincial autonomy, separate communal electorate, lowering franchise qualifications, proper and adequate representation of different communities in public services, bicameral provincial legislature, financial adjustment with the centre, and transfer of provincial subjects to ministers. The Report of the Bengal Committee also appended an essay on the problems of Muslim education. The Indian Statutory Commission ended in futility, but seen retrospectively it was not a totally futile exercise.

Volume XVII, Selections From Memoranda on' Oral Evidence By Non-Officials (part II) contained the following evidences from Bengal: all bengal namashudra association, the bengal depressed classes association, and the british indian association. [Enayetur Rahim]