Constitutional Development in India during the British Rule

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Indian constitution

Constitutional Development:

Indian Constitution was largely influenced by the various acts passed during the British Rule.

Regulating Act:

This was the first step of the British Government to control the affairs of East India Company in India. The Company, through a charter, had only been given trading rights by British Crown. When it acquired territories in India, It slowly converted itself into a ruling body. The parliament could not accept and regularize this development. Regulating Act 1773 for the first time recognized the political and administration functions of the company and laid the foundation of central Administration in India.

Features of the Act, 1773

    1  The Act elevated Governor of Bengal Warren Hastings to Governor General   and subsumed the presidencies of Madras and Bombay under Bengal’s control.
    2. The Act named four Additional members to serve with the Governor General   of Bengal in the Calcutta Council. These councilors were commonly known as the Council of four.
    3.A Supreme Court was established at Fort William in Calcutta comprising one Chief Justice and three other Judges. British Judges were to be sent to India to administer the British Legal System that was use there.
    4.It strengthened the control of the British Government over the Company by requiring the Court of Director to report on its revenue, civil, military, affairs in India.
    5.While rectifying the defects of the regulating Act of 1773, the British Parliament passed the Act known as Amending Act of 1781. It was also known as Act of Settlement.  Among  many things, it was deprived of its right to Action arising in the collection of revenue.

Pitt’s India Act, 1784

The shortcoming of the Regulating Act soon became obvious. The East India Company Act 1784, also Known as Pitt’s India Act (William Pitt was prime minister of Britain at that time), was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain intended to address the shortcomings of the Regulating Act of 1773, by bringing the East India Company’s rule in India under the control of the British Government.

 Features of the Pitt’s India act,1784

  • This act placed the Indian affairs of the east India Company under the direct control of the British government.
  • Pitt’s India act provided for a body of six commissioners popularly known as the Board of Control.  It established board of control over the court of directors. it consisted of one secretary of state, the chancellor of the exchequer and four privy councilors appointed by the king and holding office during his pleasure. the board of control took care of the political affairs while the court of directors managed the commercial affairs.
  • again in 1786, an amending act was brought by the British government, which took care of problem related to the councils of the governor general and governors and made lord Cornwallis the second governor general. 

Charter Act, 1793

Charter act of 1793 was an act of the parliament of Great Britain, which renewed the charter issue to the British east India Company and continued company’s rule in India. The act made only fairly minimal changes to either the system of government in India or British over sight of the company’s activities. Most importantly, the company’s trade monopoly was continued for further period of 20 years. the governor general was generated extensive powers over the subordinates presidencies.

Charter act, 1833

The charter act of 1833 came into being after many socio political changes in British society. The act gave another 20 years to East India Company to trade in India. Also, this act was last step towards centralisation in British India.

Feature of act 1833

  • it made governor general of Bengal ass the governor general of India was visited in him all civil and military powers. Lord William Bentinck was the first governor general of India.
  •  Fourth member was added to governor general’s council for legislative purpose. lord Macaulay was the first incumbent.
  •  the act vested the legislative power exclusive in governor general in council and deprived governor of Bombay  and Madras of their legislative powers.
  •  The Indian civil services was founded. it attempted to introduce a system of open competition for selection of civil servants and affirmed that the Indians should not be barred from holding any palace, office or employment under the company.
  • it provided that the company’s territories in India were held by it ‘in trust for his majesty, his heirs and successors’.

Charter act, 1853

The charter act of 1853 renewed the powers of the company and allowed it to retain the possessions of Indian territories on trust for the British Crown. It was the last in the series of Charter Acts.

Features of the Act, 1853

  • It laid foundation of parliamentary System of Government. The Executive and Legislature were separated. Legislative were separated. Legislative Assembly functioned on the model of British Parliament.
  • It extended the Company’s rule, but didn’t specify any particular period, unlike the previous charters, thereby hinting that the company’s rule could be terminated any time at the will of the Parliament. It reduced the number of Boards of Directors from 24 to 18 and 6 out of them were nominated.
  • By this Act, the Court of Directors were Disposed of their power of patronage and higher posts in administration were thrown open to the competitive examination. A committee headed by Lord Macaulay was appointed in the year 1854 to enforce this.
  • The Act for the first time introduced local representation In the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. Of the Six new legislative members of the Governor-General’s Council, four members were appointed by the local (provincial) Governments of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and Agra.

Government of India Act, 1858

The war of Indian Independence in 1857 brought the affairs of East India Company to an end. In 1858, an act known as the Act for the Good Government of India, abolished the East Indian Company and transferred the powers of government, territories and revenues to the British Crown. By this Act the Government of India was placed directly under the crown. It was also known as queen’s proclamation Act 1858.

Features of the Act, 1858

  • This Act ended the system of double government. The institutions of Board of Directors and Court of Properties were abolished. It changed the designation of the Governor General of India to that of victory of India. Viceroy was the direct representative of the British crown in India. Lord Canning, who was then Governor General, became the first victory of India.
  • Government of India Act 1858, created a new office, Secretary of state for India, with complete authority over Indian Administration. He was a member of the British Cabinet and was responsible to the British Parliament.
  • This act continued the secretary of State in Council with a power to sue and being sued in India and in England.
  • By this Act, a council of India (15 members) as an advisory body was established to assist the secretary of State for India. The Secretary of State was made the Chairmen of the Council.

Indian Council Act, 1861

The Indian Council Act, 1861, was one of the series of reforms initiated by the British Government to reform the British Administrative set up in India.

Features of the Act, 1861

  •     The Indian Council Act, 1861, reversed the centralising tendency that started in 1773 and completed with 1833 Act. It restored the legislative powers of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies.
  • The Act, provided for the establishment of new Legislative Councils for Bengal (established in 1862), North-Western frontier province (established in 1866) and Punjab (established in 1897).
  • This Act empowered the viceroy to make rules and orders for the more convenient transaction of business in the Council.
  • It gave recognition to the Portfolio System, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859.
  • It authorised the Viceroy to issue ordinances during an emergency even without the concurrence of the Legislative Council.
  • It associated Indians with the law making process for the first time. The Viceroy could nominate Indians as non-official members in his expended Council. In 1862, three Indians were nominated to the legislative Council, Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao.

Indian Councils Act, 1892

The Indian Councils Act 1892, dealt exclusively with the powers, functions and compositions of the Legislative Councils.

Features of Act, 1892

  • It increased the number of additional (non-official) members in the central and Provincial Legislative Councils, but maintained the official majority in them.
  • Legislative Council was given power to discuss the budget. Members of Legislative Council were allowed to ask question to the executive.
  • It authorised Viceroy to nominate non-official members in Central Legislative Council on the recommendation of the Provincial legislative Councils and the Bengal Chamber of commerce.
  • Similarly, It authorised governors to nominate non-official members in the Provincial Legislative councils on the recommendation of the District Boards, Municipalities, Universities, Trade Associations, Zamindars and Chambers.

Indian Council Act, 1909

This act is also known as Morley-Minto Reforms as Lord Morley was the then Secretary of State for India and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India.

   Features of the Act, 1909

As per the act of 1909, membership of the Legislative Council at the center increased from 16 to 60. For major Provincial Councils, the number was raised to 50 and for minor provinces it was fixed to 30. The additional members were both nominated and elected. The principal of election was functional representation.
    This act allowed the provincial Legislative Councils to have non-official majority, however, it retained official majority in the Central Legislative Council.
     Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was also appointed as the law member because this act for the first time provided for the association of Indians with the Executive Councils of the Viceroy and governors.
     The Act also increased the number of Executive Councilors in the three major Presidencies Bombay, Madras and Bengal.
     This Act increased the deliberative functions of the Legislative Councils at both the levels. Now members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, discussions on any matter of general public interest and budget.
     This Act introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by Providing separate electorate to them. As per this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Hence, Lord Minto came to be known as the father of communal Electorate in India.

Government of India Act, 1919

This Act also known as the Montague- Chelmsford Reforms as Montague was the Secretary of state for India and lord Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India. It was in line with the declaration of British Government on 20th August 1917 that its objective was the gradual introduction of responsible Government in India.

Features of the Act, 1919

  • This act introduced system of diarchy, a term derived from the Greek word di-arche, which means double rule, in the provinces. It was considered to be a substantial step towards transfer of power to the Indians. The provincial subjects of administration were to be divided into two categories namely transferred and reserved. The transferred subjects were to be administration by the governor with the help of ministers responsible to the Legislative Council. Whereas, the Governor and the Executive Council were to administer the reserved subjects without having any responsibility towards the legislature. However, this experiment was largely unsuccessful.
  • This act set the Devolution Rules, by which subjects of administration were divided into two categories namely, central and provincial. Central category had subjects of all India importance (like Railways and Finance), while matters relating to the administration of the provinces were classified as provincial.
  • It introduced, for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Consequently, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameralism legislature consisting of an Upper House (Council of State) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). The majority of members of both the house were to be chosen by direct election.
  • The Number of Indians in the Governor General’s executive Council was raised to there in a council of six members (other than the Commander-in-Chief). The Indian members were entrusted with departments such as law, education, labour, health and industries.
  • Communal representation extended to Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians etc. Secretary of stats to be henceforth paid salary out of the British revenue.
  • It provided for a new office of the High Commissioner for India in London and transferred to him some of the functions of the Secretary of state for India.
  • Government of India Act 1919 also provided for franchise for those who were educated, paid tax and had property.
  • It made provision for the establishment of a public Service Commission, which came into being in 1928 for the recruitment of civil servants.
  • It separated provincial budgets from the central budget and provincial legislatures were authorised to enact their budgets.

Constitutional Development in India during the British Rule
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