Constitutional Development in British Era

East India Company till Regulating Act of 1773

  • On 31 December 1600, British East India Company was granted an English Royal Charter under the name “Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies” by Queen Elizabeth I.
  • British East India Company is the oldest among all the contemporary European East Indian Companies. British East India Company was founded in 1600. Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 Danish East India Company was founded in 1616 Portuguese East India Company was founded in 1628 French East India Company was founded in 1664 Swedish East India Company was founded in 1731
  • The company was given right to do business for next 15 years and the charter needed to be renewed after that. This company operated till it was dissolved in 1874 by East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act 1873.
  • Initial purpose of the company was to provide a vehicle for the creation of exclusive trading privileges in the East Indies which included modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Japan for London merchants. However, later in practice the commercial character of the company gradually underwent a complete change in the course of a century and half and it became an “agent of imperialism”, till it was forced to pass the direct rule of India to the British Government in 1858.
  • Initially the company was dependent upon the success of individual voyages, but by 1657 the company had achieved continuous investment through a joint stock arrangement. The company had a monopoly and it was allowed to operate independently and unchecked, however, in the later parts of the 17th century, it had to bow to the forces of opposition in England and in 1694; the Government withdrew the East India Company’s trade monopoly. At that time, the English Parliament provided that all English subjects had the right to trade with the Indies.
  • As a sequel to this, Scottish East India Company was formed in 1695. This company soon failed because it had no backing from the English Parliament. In 1698, another English East India Company was established, but the second company, which was share, based lost majority control to the first East India Company and by 1702, it was clear that the First East India Company was stronger. Negotiations facilitated by Sidney Godolphin, which continued till 1708 and, in 1708 the two companies were formally merged and the company formed now was known as “United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies”
  • 23 June 1757 was a decisive day for British East India Company, when in Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company got victory over the Nawab of Bengal (Nawab was supported by the French) and this marked the firm establishment of Company rule in India for next 190 years.
  • The three presidencies, viz. Bombay, Madras and Bengal were each put under the control of the Governor and Council (or Governor-in-council) which was appointed by the Commission of the Company. All powers were lodged in the Governor and the Council jointly and the presidencies were independent of each other. Each had its own government independent from the others. However, the financial matters of the company were mismanaged since 1757. The officers turned greedy and corrupt.
  • In 1773, the company became almost insolvent and forced to apply to the British Government for a loan of One Million Pound Sterling. This led to the British government of Lord North to undertake a legislation to meet the situation and provide some form of legal government for the Indian possessions of the East India Company, which resulted in Regulating Act of 1773.



Regulating Act of 1773

  • Regulating Act of 1773 is known to be the first step of the British government to regulate the affairs of the East India Company.
  • This act designated the Governor of Bengal as the Governor General of Bengal who also was to serve as Governor General of all British Territories in India. An executive council with 4 members (and NOT LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL) was created to assist the Governor General.
  • The Office of the Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William was created in 1773, and on 20 October 1773, Warren Hastings became the first Governor General.
  • The regulating act of 1773 was the almost first indication of the involvement of the British Government in the Indian affairs, which eventually led to complete control in 1858.
  • The act unequivocally established the supremacy of the Presidency of Bengal over the others.
  • In matters of foreign policy, the Regulating Act of 1773 made the presidencies of Bombay and Madras, subordinate to the Governor General and his council. Now, no other presidency could give orders for commencing hostilities with the Indian Princes, declare a war or negotiate a treaty. To curb the corruption, the act forbade the servants of the company to accept presents and bribes.

India’s first Supreme Court, Fort William, Calcutta


  • The regulating act of 1773 established a supreme court at Fort William, Calcutta.
  • This Supreme Court consisted one Chief Justice and three other regular judges or Puisne Judges.
  • Sir Elijah Imphey was the first Chief Justice of this Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court was the supreme judiciary over all British subjects including the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This was the starting point of Modern Constitutional History of India, under the British.
  • Please note that this was though a Supreme Court, but still it was not above the Company. The act of 1773 was obscure with regard to the relation of the Supreme Court with the Government of Bengal. The Supreme Court subjected the company to the control of British Government.
  • Later an amendment in this act was made (The amending act of 1781), in which the actions of the public servants in the company in their official capacity were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court was also made to consider and respect the religious and social customs of the Indians. Appeals could be taken from the provincial courts to the Governor-General-in-Council and that was the final court of appeal. The rules and regulations made by the Governor General-in-Council were not to be registered with the Supreme Court.

The Amending Act 1781

  • On 5th July 1781, Parliament of Great Britain passed the Amending Act to the Regulating Act of 1773

Main Points:

  1. This act significantly reduced the powers of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The actions of the servants of the Company in their official capacity were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
  2. It separated the Governor-General-in-Council and revenue matters from the Court`s jurisdiction.
  3. The act`s geographic jurisdiction became limited to only Calcutta.
  4. The Act recognized the appellate jurisdiction of the Governor-General-in-Council.
  5. It empowered the Governor-General and Council to convene as a Court of Record to hear appeals from the Provincial Courts on civil cases. This means that appeal could be taken from the provincial courts to the Governor General & Council and that was to be the final court of appeal.
  6. The Act also asserted that Mohammedan cases should be determined by Mohammedan law and Hindu law applied in Hindu cases.

INDIRECT control of the British Government – Pitts India Act 1784

  • The flaws in the working of the Regulating Act of 1773 were later taken on by William Pitts, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
  • This act established a Board of 6 Commissioners in England for the affairs of India and it was known as Board of Control. This board of control comprised of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of state and 4 privy Councilors. This Board of control was empowered to control all matters of civil or military government or revenues. The board was given full access to the company’s records. It had the powers to send Governors to India and full authority to alter them.
  • The Governor General’s council was now reduced to 3 members, one of whom was to be the commander-in-chief of the King’s army in India.
  • The governor General was given the right of casting vote, in case the members present in a meeting of the council shall any time be equally divided in opinion.
  • In short, the Pitt’s India Act brought the Governor General and his council which was now reduced to 3 members under the INDIRECT control of the British Government and other minor Presidencies under the control of Governor General & Council.
  • This act separated the commercial and political activities of the company.
  • The act now actually provided for a joint government of the company and British crown. The Company was to be represented by the Directors and the Crown was represented by the Board of Control.
  • The Governors of Presidencies of Bombay and Madras were deprived of their independent powers and Calcutta was given greater powers in matters of war, revenue, and diplomacy, thus becoming in effect, the capital of Company possessions in India.
  • A secret committee of the 3 directors was to transmit the orders of the Board to India. This Secret Committee was to work as a link between the Board of control and the Court of Directors.
  • All civilians and military officers were ordered to provide the Court of Directors a full inventory of their property in India and in Britain within two months of their joining their posts. Severe punishment was provisioned for corrupt officials.
  • Parliament directly appointed Lord Charles Cornwallis to implement the Act. Immediately after his joining as Governor General in 1786, Cornwallis embarked upon the responsibility of reform works reposed on him by parliament. In 1793 he completed his mission. He introduced permanent settlement , announced a judicial code, established administrative and police systems and then left for home in the same year.


Act of 1786

  • Lord Cornwallis who was appointed Governor-General and commander in chief in India in 1786, instituted land reforms and reorganized the British army and administration.
  • He had a demand that powers of the Governor-General be enlarged to empower him, in special cases, to override the majority of his Council and act on his own special responsibility.
  • So Act of 1786 was enacted which gave him a power of working as Both Governor General & Commander in Chief.
  • Thus Cornwallis became the first effective ruler of British India under the authority of Board of Control and the Court of Directors.

Consolidation of the Indian Judiciary- Charter Act 1793

  • By 1793, when the company’s charter timed out the British parliament passed a new charter which authorized the company to carry on trade with the East Indies for next 20 years. The company was allowed to increase its dividend to 10%.
  • A provision in the Charter act of 1793 was made that the company, after paying the necessary expenses, interest, dividend, salaries, etc from the Indian Revenues will pay 5 Lakh British pounds annually out of the surplus revenue to the British Government.
  • However, the act also had a provision, that Crown could order the application of the whole of the revenue for the purpose of defense if the circumstances posed such demands.
  • The Governor General was empowered to disregard the majority in special circumstances.
  • The Governor General and respective governors of the other presidencies could now override the respective councils, and the commander in chief was not now the member of Governor General’s council, unless he was specially appointed to be a member by the Court of Directors.
  • If a high official departed from India without permission, it was to be treated as resignation.
  • The charter act 1793 can be called an act for consolidation of the Indian Judiciary. This act reorganized the courts and redefined their jurisdictions. The revenue administration was divorced from the judiciary functions and this led to disappearing of the Maal Adalats.
  • The revenue cases were now referred to Zillah adalats or district courts. Court of appeal were made 5 provincial courts at Calcutta, Patna, Dhaka & Murshidabad.


Charter Act of 1797

  • This act reduced the number of judges at Supreme Court at Calcutta from 4 to 3.



Act of 1800

  • This act extended the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court at Calcutta over Benaras and some other areas. Besides this act also provided the provision of constituting a Supreme court at Madras.


Act of 1807

  • This act gave the powers to the governors and councils of the presidencies of Madras and Bombay to make regulations as that of Bengal subject to approval by Supreme Court. Also power of appointing Justices of peace was given to them


End of monopoly of the East India Company- Charter Act of 1813


  • 20 years after the charter of 1793 was renewed, the charter timed out and was to be renewed. During 1798 to 1805, Lord Wellesley served as the Governor General of India. The 7 years tenure of Lord Wellesley is known to be an important phase in the development of British power in India. His policy allowed him to remove all kinds of French influence from India and he established the British the paramount power in this subcontinent. He was successful in wars and was known to be an aggressive implementer of Policy of annexations. But this aggressive policy of annexations plunged the company into financial difficulties. This was also an era of successes for Napoleon Bonaparte whose Berlin decree of 1806 & Milan Decree of 1807 forbade the import of British goods into European countries allied with or dependent upon France, and installed the Continental System in Europe. These circumstances posed hardships to British traders, and they demanded entry to the ports of Asia.
  • But the East India Company clamored that its political authority and commercial privileges cannot be separated. The controversy was later resolved by allowing all the British merchants to trade with India under a strict license system.
  • Thus the Charter act of 1813 ended the monopoly of the East India Company in India
  • however the company’s monopoly in trade with china and trade in tea was remained
  • The charter act of 1813, for the first time explicitly defined the constitutional position of the British territories in India.
  • This act also made provisions to grant permission to the persons who wished to go to India for promoting moral and religious improvements. (Christian Missionaries)
  • This act regulated the company’s territorial revenues and commercial profits. The company debt was to be reduced and dividend was fixed @10.5% per annum.
  • There was also a provision that Company should invest Rs. 1 Lakh every year on the education of Indians.
  • This act also empowered the local governments to impose taxes on the persons subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.


Codifying the Laws – Charter Act of 1833

  • The 20 years renewal of the charter ran out in 1833. This was the time for the government to do a careful assessment of the functioning of the company in India.
  • The charter was renewed for another 20 years, but the company was asked to close its commercial business.
  • The company lost its monopoly in China and also the trade of tea which it enjoyed with Charter act of 1813.
  • The charter act of 1833 legalized the European colonization of India and the territorial possessions of the company were allowed to remain under its government, but were held “in trust for his majesty, his heirs and successors” for the service of Government of India.
  • This act made the Governor General of Bengal the Governor general of British India and all financial and administrative powers were centralized in the hands of Governor General-in-Council.
  • The number of the members of the Governor General’s council was again fixed to 4, which had been reduced by the Pitt’s India act. However, certain limits were imposed on the functioning of the 4th member. The 4th member was NOT entitled to act as a member of the council except for legislative purposes (First time legislative functions were added).
  • Please note that the first person to be appointed as the 4th member of the Council was Lord Macaulay.
  • This act as had also provided for splitting the Presidency of Bengal, into two presidencies which were to be known as presidency of Fort William and Presidency of Agra. But this provision never came into effect, and was suspended later.
  • Charter act of 1833 distinctly spelt out the powers of the Governor-General-in- He could repeal, amend or alter any laws or regulations including all persons (whether British or native or foreigners), all places and things in every part of British territory in India, for all servants of the company, and articles of war. However, the Court of Directors acting under the Board of control could dis-allow any laws made by the Governor-General-in-Council.


Codifying the Laws

  • The charter act of 1833 is considered to be an attempt to codify all the Indian Laws.
  • The British parliament as a supreme body, retained the right to legislate for the British territories in India and repeal the acts.
  • The act of 1833 provided that all laws made in India were to be laid before the parliament and were to be known as Acts.
  • In a step towards codifying the laws, the Governor-General-i-Council was directed under the Charter act of 1833, to set up an Indian law Commission.
  • So the first law commission was set up by the Charter act of 1833 and Lord Macaulay was its most important member.
  • The objectives of the law commission was to inquire into the Jurisdiction, powers and rules of the courts of justice police establishments, existing forms of judicial procedure, nature and operation of all kinds of laws. It was directed that the law Commission shall submit its report to the Governor General-in-council and this report was to be placed in the British parliament.


Indian’s In the Government service

  • The section 87 of the Charter Act of 1833, declared that “Normative of the British Territories in India, NOR any natural Boon subject of “His majesty” therein, shall by any reason only by his religion, place of birth, descent, color or any of them be disabled from holding any place, office or employment under the company” This policy was not seen in any other previous acts.
  • So the Charter act of 1833 was the first act which provisioned to freely admit the natives of India to share an administration in the country.
  • However this was actually distorted by a policy introduced by Lord Cornwallis, who shut the door for Indians for Powerful Military and Civil Services. Indians could do minor jobs only.


Mitigation of Slavery

  • This act also directed the Governor General-in-Council to adopt measures to mitigate the state of slavery, persisting in India since sultanate Era.
  • The Governor General-in-Council was also directed to pay attention to laws of marriage, rights and authorities of the heads of the families, while drafting any laws.


More Bishops

  • The number of British residents was increasing in India. The charter act of 1833 laid down regulation of establishment of Christian establishments in India and the number of Bishops was made 3.


Beginning of Indian Civil Services- Charter Act of 1853

  • In 1853, the charter of 1833 was to time out and had to be renewed. It was renewed but no substantial changes were made.
  • However, this was for the first time, that this charter act, unlike other charter acts, did not fix any limit for the continuance of the administration of the company in India. The act provided that the Indian territories will remain under the Governance of the company, until the parliament otherwise directed.
  • In England, Charter Act of 1853 reduced the number of Directors of the Company from 24 to 18. Out of these 18, six were to be appointed by the crown.
  • The Charter act of 1853 provided for appointment of a separate Governor for the Presidency of Bengal, distinct from the Governor General.
  • However, the court of Directors and the Board of Control were authorized to appoint a lieutenant governor, till the appointment of a Governor was made. Please note that the Lieutenant governor was appointed in 1854, but no Governor was appointed for Bengal till 1912.
  • This act also empowered the Court of Directors either to constitute a new Presidency (In lines of Presidency of Madras or Bombay) or appoint a Lieutenant Governor. Here it’s worth that No new presidency was constituted but in 1859, a new Lieutenant governor was appointed for Punjab.
  • Charter Act of 1853 marks the expansion of the Council of the Governor General for legislative purposes. The fourth member (Lord Macaulay) was placed at an equal status with other members. The council of legislative purposes which had 6 members now was expanded to 12 members.
  • These 12 members were : The Governor General, The commander in Chief, 4 Members of the Governor General’s Council, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Calcutta), A regular judge of the Supreme court Calcutta, Representative members drawn from the company’s servants with 10 years minimum tenure and appointed by the local governments of Bengal, Madras, Bombay and North Western provinces


Genesis of Indian Civil Services

  • The previous charter act of 1833 had laid down that the Court of Directors should nominate annually 4 times as many candidates as there were vacancies, from whom one should be selected by competitive examination.
  • The charter act of 1833 also provided the Haileybury college of London should make quota to admit the future civil servants. However, this system of an open competition was never effectively operated.
  • The Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay had prepared the regulations in this context.
  • The report said that Haileybury should cease to be maintained as higher education college for the ICS There should be a broad general education rather than specialized education for the ICS recruits. The recruitment should be based upon an open competitive examination to bring out the best candidates and not through mere superficial knowledge The appointments should be subject to a period of probation.
  • Charter Act of 1853 deprived the Court of Directors of its right of Patronage to Indian appointments and now it was to be exercised under the regulations. This was the Birth of Civil Services which was thrown in 1854 for open competition.


New provinces

  • By that time, the administrative situation got hard due to annexation of new territories to the company’s possession in India. The Charter Act of 1853 empowered the Governor General of India-in Council to take over by proclamation under his immediate authority and management of the territories for the time being. He was authorized to issue necessary orders and directions for its administrations or provide for its administration. This resulted in creation of Assam, the central provinces, and Burma. 



Government of India Act 1858: India Directly under Crown

  • This act is also co-terminus with Queen Victoria’s declaration, 1858 India’s first war of Independence, which was called the “Sepoy Mutiny” by the British, proved to be the last nail in the coffin of Company rule in India.
  • The mutiny was suppressed. But it sent ripples of fear to London, and convinced the British that administration of the India must be taken over by the Crown.
  • The British prime Minister, Palmerstone had introduced a Bill in 1858 in the parliament for the transfer of Government of India to The crown. However, before this bill was to be passed, Palmerstone was forced to resign on another issue.
  • Later Lord Stanley introduced another bill which was originally titled as “An Act for the Better Government of India” and it was passed on August 2, 1858. This act provided that India was to be governed directly and in the name of the crown.
  • This act abolished the company rule, abolished the Court of directors and abolished the Board of control.
  • The act provided the Crown will govern India directly through a Secretary of State for India, who was to exercise the powers which were being enjoyed by the Court of Directors and Board of control.
  • The first Secretary of state was Lord Stanley, who prior to 2 August 1858, served as President of the Board of Control. The Secretary of State was now the political head of the India.
  • In 1935, the Government of India Act 1935 provided a new Burma Office, in preparation for the establishment of Burma as a separate colony, but the same Secretary of State headed both Departments and was styled the Secretary of State for India and Burma. The first secretary of state for India and Burma was Lord Dundas. The India Office of the Secretary of State for India and Burma came to an end in 1947, when we got independence and now the Secretary of state of India and Burma was left to be Secretary of Burma. Viscount Ennismore was the first and last Secretary of Burma, as Burma got independence in 1948.
  • Centralization: The right of appointment to important offices in India was vested either in the crown or in the secretary of state of India-in-Council. This act abolished the Dual Government introduced by the Pitt’s India act. The administration of the country was now highly centralized. All civil, military and executive powers vested in the Governor in council, who in turn was responsible to Secretary of State.
  • There was a provision of creation of an Indian Civil Service under the control of the Secretary of State.
  • Year 1861, marked the passing of 3 acts. These acts were Indian Civil Services Act 1861, Indian Councils Act 1861 and Indian High courts Act 1861.


Indian Civil Services Act 1861- Civil Services Open for Indians

  • A competitive examination was organized in 1853, but the Indians could not seek entry. However, the system of reserving principal posts for the members of the covenanted service (means British) was introduced in 1858.
  • The Indian Civil Services Act, 1861, validated a number of irregular appointments which were made in India to meet the exigencies in disregard of the restriction that all offices in the civil cadre of the company’s service in India were reserved to the civil services of the Presidency. The recruitment in the civil services was scheduled which also included the number of appointments to be filled “only by the members of the covenanted Civil Service in Future”. Thus, the Principal posts were reserved for British.
  • The civil services act 1861 laid down that any person, whether Indian or European could be appointed to any of the offices (specified in the schedule annexed), provided that he had resided for minimum of 7 years in India. The person had to pass an exam in vernacular language of the district, in which he was employed. The appointment was also made a subject to departmental tests or other qualifications.
  • All appointments were now to be reported to the Secretary of State and unless Secretary of State approves within twelve months, were declared void.
  • The Indian Civil Services Act could not fulfil the demand of by the educated Indians to secure employment in the Covenanted Civil Service. Further reforms were made later.


Indian Councils Act 1861- Restoration of Law Making Powers of Madras and Bombay

  • The Governments of Madras and Bombay were deprived of their power of legislation by Charter act of 1833. The Indian Councils Act 1861 restored this power to them.
  • This act is known to have made notable changes in the composition of the Governor General’s council for executive & legislative Purposes.
  • The council of the Governor General of India performed dual functions of executive and legislature.
  • For executive functions the notable change was that Council of the Governor General was expanded and a fifth member was added.
  • For the purpose of Legislation, the Governor General’s Council was restructured. Now the additional new NOT less than 6 and NOT more than 12 members were now to be nominated by the Governor General and they were to hold the office for two years. Out of these, not less than half were required to be Non-Official.
  • This was a beginning towards the establishment of legislative system by adding legislative non official members to the Council of the Governor General. However, the functions were limited to the legislation and it had not to do any other function except the consideration or enactment of legislative measures.
  • It was laid down that without the assent of the Governor General a bill relating to the public revenue or debt, religion, military, naval or foreign relations cannot be passed.
  • However, any such act might be dissolved by the crown acting through the secretary of State of India.
  • The Indian Councils Act 1861 restored the power of legislation to the governor-in-councils of Madras and Bombay in respective matters. The act also laid down the provision for the formation of legislative councils in other provinces.
  • With the Indian Councils Act for the first time Portfolio system started. Each member of the Council of the Governor General was allocated portfolio of a particular department.
  • Lord Canning was the First to start a Portfolio system.
  • The Governor General was authorized to exercise a veto and issue ordinances in a situation of emergency.


Indian High Courts Act 1861- Establishment of High Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay

  • By Indian High Courts Act 1861, the Supreme & Sadar Courts were amalgamated.
  • The ‘Indian High Court Act’ of 1861, vested in Queen of England to issue letters patent to erect and establish High Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.
  • The High Courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were established by Indian High Courts Act 1861.
  • Its worth note that Indian High Courts Act, 1861 did not by itself create and establish the High Courts in India. The objective of this act was to effect a fusion of the Supreme Courts and the Sadar Adalats in the three Presidencies and this was to be consummated by issuing Letter Patent.
  • The jurisdiction and powers exercised by these courts was to be assumed by the High Courts.


Composition of the High Court’s:

  • The Indian High Courts Act 1861 had also spelled the composition of the High Court. Each High Court was to consist of a Chief Justice and NOT more than 15 regular judges. The chief Justice and minimum of one third regular judges had to be barristers and minimum one third regular judges were to be from the “covenanted Civil Service”.
  • All Judges were the be in the office on the pleasure of the Crown.
  • The High Courts had an Original as well as an Appellate Jurisdiction the former derived from the Supreme Court, and the latter from the Sudder Diwani and Sudder Foujdari Adalats, which were merged in the High Court.
  • The Calcutta High Court has the distinction of being the first High Court and one of the three Chartered High Courts to be set up in India, along with the High Courts of Bombay, Madras.
  • High Court at Calcutta which was formerly known as High Court of Judicature at Fort William was established on July 1, 1862. Sir Barnes Peacock was its first Chief Justice.
  • On 2nd February, 1863, Justice Sumboo Nath Pandit was the first Indian to assume office as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court.


Indian Councils Act 1892: Beginning of the parliamentary System in India

  • Indian Councils Act 1892 was the beginning of the parliamentary System in India.
  • Before this act was passed, the Indian National Congress had adopted some resolutions in its sessions in 1885 and 1889. The first session of the Indian national Congress was organized by A O Hume and other leaders.
  • The 4 demands put by the INC were: A simultaneous examination of ICS to be held in England and India, Reforms of the legislative council and adoption of the principle of election in place of nomination, Opposition to the annexation of Upper Burma and Reduction in the Military expenditure.
  • The second demand mentioned above reflected the dissatisfaction of the Indian National Congress over the existing system of governance. The Indian leaders wanted admission of a considerable number of the elected members. They also wanted the creation of similar councils of North western Province and Oudh and also for Punjab The Indian leaders also wanted a right to discussion on budget matters.
  • The demand was taken seriously by Viceroy Lord Dufferin who set a committee. The committee was given the responsibility to draw a plan for the enlargement of the provincial councils and enhancement of their status. The plan was drawn, but when it was referred to the Secretary of State for India, he did not agree to introduction of the Principle of election.
  • The Indian Councils Act 1892 gave the members right to ask questions on Budget or matters of public Interest. But none of them was given right to ask supplementary questions.
  • The act was 1892 can be said to be a First step towards the beginning of the parliamentary system in India, where the members are authorized to ask questions.
  • At least, they were enabled to indulge in a criticism of the Financial Policy of the Government.
  • The Indian Councils act 1892 can also be said to introduce the principle of representation. This act authorized the universities, District Boards, Municipalities, Zamindars and Chambers of Commerce to send members to Provincial councils.
  • The Indian Councils act 1892 increased the number of the additional members in case of the council of the governor general to maximum of 16. It also increased the number of additional members to the council of governors in provinces.


Indian Councils Act 1904

  • Lord Curzon was the viceroy of India in 1903. He wanted a sixth member in his council for Commerce and Industry.
  • This demand was fulfilled by the Indian Councils Act 1904, in which the crown was empowered to appoint 6th member in the Executive Council of the Governor General. This provision was implemented and the 6th member was appointed who held the Portfolio of Commerce & industry



Indian Councils Act 1909 – An unfortunate turn in Indian Political history

  • Lord Minto served as Viceroy of India since from 1905 to 1910. He succeeded Lord Curzon in 1905.
  • Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman who is first man to be given official use of the title ‘Prime Minister’ became Prime Minister in 1905.
  • When he formed his cabinet he appointed John Morley as Secretary of State for India. This was the time of unrest in India.
  • Both the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India decided to work out some scheme to reform the Legislative councils. This culminated as Indian Councils act 1909 or Minto-Morley reforms.
  • The idea was to give locals some more power in the legislative affairs. The act was passed in 1911.
  • A provision was made for the expansion of legislative councils at the both the levels viz. central as well as provincial.
  • Minto Morley Reforms was an unfortunate turn in our history. It introduced separate and discriminatory electorate.
  • This was for the first time that, electorate for returning to the representatives to the councils was decided on the basis of class & community. For the provincial councils a provision of three categories was made viz. general, special and chambers of commerce.
  • For the central council, one more category Muslims was added. This was for the first time that, the seats in the legislative bodies were reserved on the basis of religion for Muslims. This is called Communal representation. The Minto Morley reforms are known to envisage a separate electorate for Muslims and this had a long lasting impact on India’s polity. This was for the first time that Muslim community was recognized as a completely separate section of the Indian nation and this triggered “A Cancer” in India called “Hindu-Muslim Disharmony” which later culminated in India and Pakistan. Separate constituencies were marked for the Muslims and only Muslim community members were given the right to elect their representatives.
  • The number of members of the legislative councils at the center was increased from 16-60. the number of the members of the provincial legislatures was also increased and it was fixed 50 for Bengal, madras and Bombay and 30 for rest of the provinces.

Some other features:

  • The act empowered the members to discuss the budget and move resolutions before it was approved finally
  • The members were given rights to ask supplementary questions and move resolutions to on matters related to loans to the local bodies.
  • The members given right to discuss matters of the public interest but please note that the House was not binding on the government.
  • In The Lahore Session of Indian National Congress, 1909, strong disapproval was expressed against the separate electorate formed on the basis of religion.

Government of India Act 1919 – Mont-Ford Reforms

  • Government of India act is known as a consequence of Montague Chelmsford Reforms. On 17 July 1917 Edwin Samuel Montagu was made secretary of state for Government of India. Lord Chelmsford became Viceroy of India on 4 April 1916.
  • This was the era of World War I and our country witnessed a rapid growth of revolutionaries. During the First World War, Gandhi Ji had requested the country to help the allies in war. Indian public was expecting that they would also get democratic reforms.
  • Samuel Montagu is known to have put a statement in the British Cabinet which asked for “gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government” however, later the words “ultimate self government” were removed from his statement and He declared what is now known as Montagu Declaration.
  • The Montagu declaration reads as: “Increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire“.
  • The key phrase “ultimate self-government” was removed but, still the another key phrase “responsible government” in this statement gave the inference for the first time that rulers are answerable to the public.
  • The declaration made the moderates happy and they said “It is Magna Carta of India”.
  • However extremists expressed that it fell short for legitimate expectations of India. After all, total independence was what they wanted.
  • The date was 20 August 1917 and it is also known as “August Declaration”
  • The Government of India act 1919 was passed on the basis of recommendations of Lord Chelmsford and Samuel Montagu to introduce self-governing institutions gradually to India. This act covered 10 years from 1919 to 1929.

Salient Features:

  • The Government of India act 1919 had a separate Preamble. This Preamble declared that Objective of the British Government is the gradual introduction of responsible government in India. The beginning was made.
  • The beginning was introduction of Diarchy. Preamble suggested for a decentralized unitary form of government. Diarchy means a dual set of governments one is accountable another is not accountable.
  • The Government of India Act of 1919, made a provision for classification of the central and provincial subjects.
  • The provincial subjects were divided into two groups: One was reserved and another was transferred. The reserved subjects were kept with the Governor and transferred subjects were kept with the Indian Ministers. This division of subjects was basically what they meant by introducing the Diarchy.
  • The reserved subjects were the essential areas of law enforcement such as justice, police, revenue. The transferred subjects were such as public health, public works, education etc.
  • The Indian executive comprised of the Governor General and his council. No bill of the legislature could be deemed to have been passed unless assented to by the governor general. The later could however enact a Bill without the assent of the legislature.
  • This act made the central legislature bicameral. The first house which was central legislature, with 145 members (out of which 104 elected and 41 nominated) was called central Legislative Assembly and second called with 60 members (out of which 33 elected and 27 nominated) was called Council of States.
  • The term of the assembly was fixed 3 years and council 5 years. The central legislature can be called a primitive model of today’s Lok Sabha & council of states can be called a primitive model of Today’s Rajya Sabha.
  • The act provided for the establishment of a Public Service Commission in India for the first time.
  • This act also made a provision in its part V, that a statutory commission would be set up at the end of 10 years after the act was passed which shall inquire into the working into the system of the government. The Simon commission of 1927 was an outcome of this provision.
  • The communal representation was extended and Sikhs, Europeans and Anglo Indians were included.
  • The Franchise (Right of voting) was granted to the limited number of only those who paid certain minimum “Tax” to the government.
  • The tenure of the central legislature was 3 years
  • The seats were distributed among the provinces not upon the basis of the population but upon the basis of their importance in the eyes of the government, on the basis of communities, and property was one of the main basis to determine a franchisee. Those people who had a property, taxable income & paid land revenue of Rs. 3000 were entitled to vote.
  • The central legislature was empowered to consider, pass or reject legislation on any of the subjects enumerated in the Central list.
  • But, the Governor-General had the last word on any Bill passed by the Legislature. He possessed the power to prevent the consideration of a Bill or any of its part, on the plea that it was injurious to the peace and tranquillity of the country. He could disallow a question in the legislature. He had the power to withhold his assent to any Bill passed by the legislature without which it could not become an Act. He also had the power to disallow an adjournment motion or debate on any matter. He could enact a law, which he considered essential for the safety and tranquility of the empire even if the legislature had refused to pass it.
  • The financial powers of the central legislature were also very much limited. The budget was to be divided into two categories, votable and non-votable. The votable items covered only one third of the total expenditure. Even in this sphere the Governor-General was empowered to restore any grant refused or reduced by the legislature, if in his opinion the demand was essential for the discharge of his responsibilities.

Government of India Act 1935 – All breaks, no engine

  • The changes introduced by the Government of India act 1919 were too short of a self government in our country. There was only partial transfer of powers through a system of dyarchy. The act was inadequate to satisfy the National aspirations. The division of subjects in Reserved and transferred was illogical and not acceptable. In November 1920, there were elections which were boycotted by the congress. The government of India act 1919 envisaged the centralization through the division of authority between the central and provincial governments in various fields of administration but central legislature was competent to legislate on the Provincial subjects and there was still no federal principle in operation and Government in India was still unitary. The act of 1919 could not satisfy any one.
  • The dyarchy as an experiment failed, when it was put to practice as there was no substantial transfer of power to the representatives of the people.
  • There was an emergence of a new spirit, zeal and unity among the educated Indians under the banner of Indian National Congress In January 1915, Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India from South Africa. In may 1915 he established Sabarmati ashram in Gujarat. The Champaran agrigarian dispute of North Bihar, a similar dispute in Gujarat at kaira and also a labor dispute in Ahmadabad made Mahatma Gandhi a national hero and his influential political career started. He devised a new technique Satyagraha.
  • The British were irked by the growing revolutionary terrorism and the ongoing First World War. In 1919, a committee was established by the Governor general Chelmsford under the judge of the Kings Bench in London Sydney Rowlatt. The responsibility of this committee was to investigate into the nature and extent of revolutionary activities and suggest measures. This committee submitted its report in April 1918. Based upon the recommendations of this committee two bills were introduced. One was dropped and another was passed. The name of this passed bill, which was now an act was Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act which was called Rowlatt Act. On February 6, 1919, Gandhi Ji decided to launch the Satyagraha and criticized the Rowlatt act as subversive and unjust and against the principles of liberty. The volunteers courted arrest and a strike was launched country wide on April 6, 1919. On April 13, 1919 the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy occurred and the Satyagraha lost momentum.
  • Before the government of India act 1935 passed, 3 round conferences in London were held. These have been discussed in our Independence struggle.

Salient Features:

  • The Government of India Act 1935 introduced the provincial autonomy and provided for an all India federation. This act introduced dyarchy at the central level.
  • This act had 321 sections and 10 schedules. It made a provision for establishment of a Federal court.
  • The franchisee was extended.
  • It divided the subjects in 3 lists.
  • The Indian council was abolished and an advisory body was introduced.
  • Burma was separated from India, and Aden was surrendered to British Colonial office.
  • The political conscious of the people of India was not considered. There was no provision of any fundamental right. It perpetuated the sovereignty of the British parliament over India.

All India Federation:

  • The government of India act 1935 provided for an all India federation.
  • In this all India federation the british India provinces, the chief commissioners of the provinces and those Indian states which might accede to be united were included. The federation consisted of 11 provinces, 6 chief commissioners provinces and other states. The accession to the federation was voluntary.

Some notable Points:

  • This act ended the system of dyarchy introduced by the Government of India Act 1919 and provided for the establishment of a “Federation of India”, to be made up of both British India and some or all of the “princely states”
  • This act introduced for the first time the direct elections and increased the franchise from seven million to thirty-five million people.
  • The partial reorganization of the provinces included separation of Sind from Bombay, Splitting Bihar and Orissa into separate provinces, Complete separation of Burma from India, Detachment of Aden from India and establishing as a separate colony.
  • However, the degree of autonomy introduced at the provincial level was subject to important limitations: the provincial Governors retained important reserve powers, and the British authorities also retained a right to suspend responsible government.
  • The act proposed that federation of India could come into existence only if as many princely states (which had been given option to join or not to join) were entitled to one half of the states seats in the upper house of the federal legislature. The parts of the Act intended to establish the Federation of India never came into operation, due to opposition from rulers of the princely states.
  • The remaining parts of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the Act were also held. The proposed federal polity was to have a bicameral legislature at the center.

Upper House:

  • The upper house was called Council of States and it consisted of 260 members. Out of these 260 members 156 were to represent the provinces and 104 to the native states. Out of the 156 which were to represent the provinces, 150 were to be elected on communal basis. Seats reserved for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, were to be filled by direct elections and Seats reserved for Indian Christians, Anglo Indians and Europeans was to be filled by indirect method of a electoral college consisting of their representative members.

Lower House:

  • The lower house was to be called the federal assembly. It consisted of 375 members out of whom 250 were to represent the provinces and 125 to represent the princely states. The term of the assembly was five years but it could be dissolved earlier also.

Federal Court:

  • A federal court was established which began its functioning from October 1, 1937. The chief Justice of the federal court was Sir Maurice Gwyer. It consisted of One Chief Justice and not more than 6 Judges.

Federal Railway Authority:

  • The Government of India Act 1935 vested the control of the railways in federal railway authority , a new 7 member body. This authority was kept free from the control of ministers and councilors. The idea was to assure the British Stakeholders of the railways that their investment was safe.
  • The Simon commission had promised ‘Dominion Status’ for India in 1929 , but the Government of India Act did not confer it.
  • This act by providing separate electorates for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans, Anglo Indians, Indian Christians etc. proved to be an instrument of disintegrating the unity fabric of the country. It was over obstructing and Nehru called it “all breaks , no engine”.

Salient Features – Indian Independence Act 1947

  • The Indian Independence Act was based upon the Mountbatten plan of 3rd June 1947 and was passed by the British parliament on July 5, 1947. It received royal assent on July 18, 1947.
  • It provided for two dominion states : India and Pakistan
  • The boundaries between the two dominion states were to be determined by a Boundary Commission which was headed by Sir Cyril Radcliff.
  • It provided for partition of Punjab & Bengal and separate boundary commissions to demarcate the boundaries between them. Pakistan was to comprise the West Punjab, East Bengal, Territories of the Sind, North West frontier provinces, Syllhat divisions of Assam, Bhawalpur, khairpur, Baluchistan and 8 other princely states of Baluchistan.
  • The authority of the British Crown over the princely states ceased and they were free to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent.
  • Both the dominions of India and Pakistan were to have Governor Generals to be appointed by the British King. The act also provided for a common Governor general if both of them agreed.
  • The constituent assemblies of both the states were free to make constitutions of their respective countries. For the time being till the constitution was made, both of them would be governed in accordance with the Government of India act 1935. Any modification or omission could be done by the Governor General. British Government would not continue any control on any dominion.
  • The Governor general was invested with adequate powers until March 1948 to issue orders for effective implementation of the provisions of the Indian independence act 1947. Those civil servants who had been appointed before the August 15, 1947, will continue in service with same privileges.
January 2, 2018

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