The Regulating Act was passed by Lord North’s Government in 1773. It was designed to remove several evils inherent in the Company and state of affairs in India:

  • The first association of the British with the work of administration under what is called the system of Dual Government (1765 to 1772) was a discreditable and shameful page of British history.
  • Then came the famine of 1770 in Bengal which was one of the most appalling disasters in Indian history. The company’s agents were blamed for the complete collapse of the government leading to the famine.
  • No co-ordination between the three Presidencies
    • The territories of the Company in India were divided into three Presidencies- Bengal, Madras and Bombay.
    • Each presidency was headed by a Governor-in-Council, which was responsible to the Directors in England.
    • There was little co-ordination and co-operation between them in India.
    • Moreover, Presidencies in India made wars and concluded treaties at their own direction. They not only create more problems for the Company, but also brought disgrace and disaster.
    • The British Government could not tolerate such hazardous events and chaotic affairs. Hence state intervention was thought to be necessary.
  • Administrative Confusion:
    • The system of Dual Government devised by Clive in Bengal in 1765 made the confusion worse confounded. Corruption was at climax. Confusion and chaos prevailed.
    • Cases of plunder and oppression were the order of the day. The unfortunate divorce of power from responsibility made the system suffer from all possible defects.
    • Thus parliament could not remain a mere passive spectator of the Company’s affairs.
  • Richness of the Servants of the Company:
    • The rich resources of Bengal had fallen into the hands of the Company whose proprietors raised dividends to 10 percent in 1767 and proposed in 1771 to raise the rate further to 12.5%.
    • The Company’s English servants took advantage of their position to make quick fortunes through illegal and unequal trade and forcible collection of bribes and gifts from Indian chiefs and zamindars.
    • Clive returned to England at the age of 34 with wealth and property yielding 40,000 pounds a year.
    • The Company’s high dividends and the fabulous wealth brought home by its officials excited the envy, jealousy and contempt of the other sections of British society.
    • Merchants kept out of the East by monopoly of the company, the growing class of manufacturers and, in general, the rising forces of free enterprises in Britain wanted to share profitable Indian trade and the riches of India which the Company and its servants alone were enjoying.
      • They, therefore, worked hard to destroy the company’s trade monopoly and in order to achieve this, they attacked the Company’s administration of Bengal. They also made the officials of the Company who returned from India (like Clive and Warren Hastings) the special target.
    • The officials were given the derisive title of nabobs and were ridiculed in the press and on the stage. They were boycotted by the aristocracy and were condemned as the exploiters and oppressors of the Indian people.
    • In March of 1772 the Directors had declared another dividend of 12.5 % in August they asked the Government for of loan of £ 1 million. Why should a Company go bankrupt, members pertinently asked, when its servants were returning to England with their pockets bulging with gold.
    • These factors made the Company unpopular.
  • Non-Payment of tribute by the Company:
    • In 1766, it was agreed that the Company would pay 4,00,000 Pound as tribute to the British Government.
    • Though for some years this tribute was paid, subsequently the Company showed its inability to pay it on the plea that it had been wrecked financially because of the loss of tea sales to America since 1768 as Dutch were able to enter the American Markets.
      • The East India Company owed money to both the Bank of England and the government; it had 15 million lbs of tea rotting in British warehouses.
    • The mismanaged Finances made the company almost insolvent and the company was forced to apply to the British Government for a loan.
  • The bankruptcy of the Company:
    • The Dual Government in Bengal brought disastrous results. The administration of Bengal was completely ruined and so were the finances of the Company.
    • The Company, therefore, was obliged to seek loan from the British Government.
      • It came as a surprise to the British Government as nobody could imagine that the Company, whose servants were returning to England loaded with gold, was running under financial loss.
      • It was an ill chosen moment for the Company to go bankrupt, especially when it had so few friends, being hated by all and sundry.
      • In applying for loan from the Government, the Directors of the Company the death warrant of their Company’s independence.
    • A secret committee was appointed and it reported that the financial condition of the company was really deplorable.
    • The British Government sanctioned a loan of 1.4 million pound at 4% annual interest to the company on certain condition such as the obligation to submit its accounts to the British treasury. But, at the same time, it passed the Regulating Act with a view to regulating the administration of the Company.
  • The East India Company was basically a trading farm that made business over a vast area of India but also maintained an army to protect its interests.
    • PM Lord North decided to start Governmental control, as East India Company had no experience in ruling it conquered few areas.
  • The British Parliament appointed two committees:
      • Secret Committee
      • Select committee.
    • Based on the recommendations of the two committees there two Act were passed:
      • The first granted the Company a loan of £ 1,400,000 at 4% interest on certain conditions.
      • The Second was Regulating Act, 1773
  • Lord North decided to overhaul the management of the East India Company and to provide some form of legal government for the Indian possessions of the East India Company with the Regulating Act 1773.
    • This was the first step along the road to government control of India.
    • The Act set up a system whereby it supervised (regulated) the work of the East India Company but did not take power for itself.
    • East India Company had a very powerful lobby in Parliament in spite of the financial crises of the Company. The Shareholders along with this lobby of Parliament opposed the act.
  • Since the Government in Britain regulated the company and did not take it over, it was termed “Regulating Act”.
  • Hence the Regulating Act of 1773 was passed because:
    • Being a trading company, EIC had difficulties in Governance.
    • Address the problem of management of company in India.
    • Address the problem of corruption
    • Terrible famine in Bengal
    • Address the problem of dual system of governance instituted by Lord Clive
    • To control the company, this was so far a business entity but now a semi-sovereign political entity in India
    • Lack of proper judicial administration
    • Company’s defeat in 1769 at the hands of Hyder Ali

Provisions of Act:

  • The Act remodelled the constitution of the Company both in England and in India.
  • The Regulating act of 1773 permitted the Company to retain its former possessions and power in India but the management was brought under control by the British Government.
  • Election for Directors:
    • The directors of the company were elected for four years (hitherto elected every year).
    • The number of Directors was fixed at 24, one fourth retiring every year.
    • The retiring Directors were not entitled to be elected again.
    • In England the right of vote in the Court of Proprietors was raised from £ 500 to £ 1,000.
  • In order to assert British Cabinet’s control over the company:
    • The directors were required to place regularly all their correspondence, regarding civil and military affairs with the Indian authorities, before the secretary of the state in England.
    • All correspondence regarding to revenues in India was required to be placed before the Treasury in England.
  • The Act limited Company dividends to 6% until it repaid a GB £1.5 Million loan and restricted the Court of Directors to four-year terms.
  • The Regulating Act laid down the fundamental principle of honest administration by:
    • providing that “no person holding or exercising any civil or military office under the Crown shall accept, receive or take directly or indirectly any persent, gift, donation, gratuity or reward, pecuniary or otherwise.”
    • prohibiting the servants of company from engaging in any private trade
  • Governor General and Council:
    • The status of governor of Bengal was raised to that of governor general, to be assisted by a council of four members.
    • The vote of the majority was to bind the Council, the Governor General having a casting vote when there was an equal division of opinion.
    • Three members of the Council formed a quorum.
    • The first Governor General (Warren Hastings) and Councillors (Philip Francis, Clavering, Monson and Barwell) were named in the Act.
    • They were to hold office for five years, and could be removed earlier only by the King on the recommendation of the Court of Directors.
      • Future appointments were to be made by the Company.
    • The Governor General in Council were vested with the civil and military government of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal.
      • They were to superintend and control the subordinate Presidencies of Madras and Bombay in the matters of waging war or making peace with the Indian states, except in emergency situations.
      • The governor general in council was given all the power
        • to govern the company’s territorial acquisition in India,
        • to administer the revenue of Bangal, Bihar, Orissa and
        • to supervise and control the general civil and military government of the Presidency.
    • The Governor General and the Council were to keep the court of directors fully informed of all their activities affecting the interests of the company and they were also to work in entire obedience to the orders and instructions of the court of directors.
  • India’s First Supreme Court: 
    • The Act empowered the Crown to establish by charter a Supreme Court of Judicature, consisting of a Chief Justice and three puisne judges.
    • The Supreme Court was constituted in 1774 at Fort William at Calcutta with Sir Elijah Impey as Chief Justice and Chambers, Lemaister and Hyde as the Puisne judges.
    • Sir Elijah Imphey was the first Chief Justice.
    • The Supreme Court was the supreme judiciary over all British subjects including the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
    • Position of the Supreme Court Calcutta: 
      • There was nothing comprehensible in the act 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.
    • Jurisdiction:
      • Supreme court was given very wide but vague jurisdiction.
      • The supreme court was vested with the jurisdiction over:
        • all British subjects (though it was not clear who were British subject? If Calcutta was under British, all residents could be British Subjects?),
        • their servants and
        • the persons employed by the company.
      • Cases against company and corporation of Calcutta also placed under the court Civil jurisdiction: His Majesty’s subjects or persons employed directly or indirectly by the company or persons who have voluntarily agreed in writing to refer their disputes to the supreme court were under the jurisdiction.
        • Various terms like the “British subjects”, “subjects of His majesty”, “persons employed directly or indirectly in the service of the company” were used to define the personal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
        • The significance of these terms by no means clearly defined.
        • All the public servants of the Company were made amenable to its jurisdiction.
        • All British subjects in Bengal, European and Indian, could seek redress in the Supreme Court against oppression.
        • The Supreme court could also entertain suits, actions and complaints against persons in the Company’s service or any of His Majesty’s subjects.
      • The Court could determine all types of cases and grant redress through all the methods then in vogue in English judicial procedure.
        • The Court was given both original and appellate jurisdiction.
        • Following the British custom, the Court heard these cases with the help of a jury of British subjects.
      • Supreme Court was also given permission to accept cases against the Governor General and any of his Council members. But court had no power to arrest or imprison any of them in any action.
    • 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.
    • Later an amendment in this act was made (The amending act of 1881), in which the actions of the public servants in the company in their official capacity were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
  • Liberal salaries were provided for the Governor-General (£25,000), each member of the Council (£ 10,000), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (£ 8,000) and for each puisne Judge (£ 6000) a year.

Criticism of the Regulating Act 1973:

  • The act was by no means satisfactory, as it failed to streamline Indian administration, while the supervision of the British government remained ineffective due to problems of communication.
  • There was nothing in the act which could address the people of India, who were paying revenue to the company but now were dying in starvation in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
  • The Act was based on the theory of checks and balances. In actual practice it broke down under the stress of Indian circumstances and its own inherent defects.
  • Governor General at the Mercy of Council:
    • The appointment of the Governor-general and a Council of four members was calculated to improve the state of affairs in Fort William which was earlier governed by a Governor and an unwieldy Council of 12 to 16 members.
    • The Governor-General was not vested with a veto power.
    • The administration in India was hampered by the disunity in the council and disharmony between the council and the governor general.
      • Due to decision of council was to be by majority, many times decisions could not be taken as per Hasting as Governor General in Council was first among equal with no veto.
      • During the first two years the Governor General (Warren Hastings) was perpetually outvoted by the majority in the Council.
      • As a result, the situation worsened day by day and ambiguity of the Act gave rise to a serious conflict between the Governor-General and the members of his Council.
  • Vague jurisdiction of the Supreme Court:
    • The ambiguities in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the council created serious conflicts between competing authorities.
      • Nothing clear was mentioned regarding the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and its relation to the Governor-general in Council was not defined.
      • The Council and the Court were ranged in two hostile camps set against each other on the borderland of debatable jurisdictions.
      • The Governor General in Council could make no laws that the judges did not condescend to notice.
    • The Act did not defined clearly who were the British subjects within the meaning of the Charter of the Supreme Court.
      • In one sense, the whole population of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were British subjects.
      • In another sense, no one was a British subject who was not an English man born.
      • In third sense, the inhabitants of Calcutta and not the general population of Bengal might be regarded as British subjects.
    • It was also not clarified whether the Supreme Court would hear the cases in accordance with the British Laws or the Native Codes of the Indian people.
      • As the British Judges were familiar only with the British Laws they forced upon the Indian people, what they thought was legally right according to the British law.
        • It was due to this ambiguity that Nand Kumar was hanged to death.
      • There was anomalous relations between the new Supreme Court administering English law, and the country courts already existing in Bengal.
  • Inadequate Control of Governor-General over Presidencies and increased vulnerability of the Company:
    • The provincial governors took advantage of the wide manoeuvring space they had been offered by the vague wordings of the act.
    • On the plea of emergency the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay acted on their own discretion and started wars and made alliances without reference to the Governor and Governor-in-Council.
    • The Act could not create goodwill between the Company and the British Government.
    • Moreover, the Company remained extremely vulnerable to the attacks of its enemies as the administration to be corrupt, oppressive and economically disastrous.
  • Provisions of the Act were also towards stopping corruption but it failed to do so.
    • The major charges were brought against the first Governor General, Warren Hastings and he was impeached in the trial for corruption.
    • In fact the whole council was divided into two factions based on the corruptions- the Hastings Group and the Francis Group.
    • They fought against each other on the issues of corruption charges alleged on them.
  • The Act was a compromise throughout and intentionally vague in many of its provisions. It did not openly assert the sovereignty of the British Crown or invade the titular authority of the Nawab of Bengal.
    • The Act had “neither given the state a definite control over the Company nor the Directors a definite control over their servants, nor the Governor General a definite control over his Council nor the Calcutta Presidency a definite control over Madras and Bombay.
  • All these obscurities and indeterminate character of the act, it seemed, arose from Parliament’s inability to define properly the issue of sovereignty in India.
  • Many defects of the Act were removed by the Declaratory Act 1781 (defined more precisely the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court), The Pitt’s India Act 1784 and the Amendment Act of 1786.

But the Regulating Act was still relevant

  • The Regulating Act of 1773 was important as it was the first attempt of the British Government to regulate the administration of the Company in India for its better governance.
    • The Regulating Act of 1773 formally recognised parliamentary right to control Indian affairs.
    • Apart from that, territories in India were also subjected to some degree of centralised control.
    • From 1773 onwards, the executive and judicial administration of the country was placed on a regular, though imperfect, footing by parliamentary act.
  • It can be said to mark the beginning of a constitution of India and asserted the right of the Parliament to legislate for the country.


  • The East India Company Act 1784, also known as Pitt’s India Act, 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.
    • Pitt the Younger became the youngest Prime Minister of England in 1783 at the age of 24.
    • Pitt was an outstanding administrator who worked for efficiency and reform, bringing in a new generation of outstanding administrators.


  • British Government enacted the Regulating Act in 1773 to control the activities of the Company.
    • The Act set up a system whereby it supervised the work of the Company but did not take power for itself.
    • The Act had proven to be a failure within a few years and the British government decided to take a more active role in the affairs of the Company.
  • In 1781, both a Select and a Secret Committee were appointed to go into the affairs of the Company.
    • The Select Committee investigated the relations between the Supreme Court and the Council in Bengal.
    • The Secret Committee the causes of the Maratha War. The voluminous reports they presented were freely used as arsenals for weapons against the Company by party orators in Parliament.
  • Parliamentary interference in the affairs of the Company was once again called for, especially when the Directors of the Company accepted that the war had beggared them and applied to the State for another loan of a million pounds.
  • Pitt’s India Act established the system of dual control of India by the government of Great Britain and the British East India Company. These changes continued till 1858.

Provisions of the 1784 Act:

  • The Company’s territorial possessions were not touched, only its public affairs and its administration in India were brought under more direct government control.
  • With the Pitts India Act of 1784, East India Company’s political functions were differentiated from its commercial activities.
  • In political matters, the company which was till now working as somewhat sovereign was made directly subordinate to the British government. To enable this, a Board of Commissioners was created, which was called Board of Control.
    • Members of this Board of Control:
      • 6 people viz.
        • the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
        • the Secretary of State, and
        • four Privy Councilors, nominated by the King
    • The Secretary of the State was entitled as the President of the Board of Control.
    • The Board of control was empowered to control all matters of civil or military government or revenues.
      • Board of Control would “superintend, direct and control all acts, operations and concerns” related to “the civil or military government or revenues of the British territorial possessions in the East Indies”.
    • 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.
    • Result of creation of Board of Control:
      • The Pitts India Act 1734 actually provided for a joint government of the company and British crown in India. So now, the fate of India People would decide the company and the British Government (indirectly).
      • The Company was to be represented by the Court of Directors and the Crown was represented by the Board of Control.
      • There was a secret committee of the 3 Directors, which had 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.
      • The Court of Proprietors lost the right to rescind, suspend or revoke any resolution of the Directors which was approved by the Board of Control.
      • The Board of control had no independent executive power.
        • It had no patronage. Its power was veiled.
        • It had access to all the Company’s papers and its approval was necessary for all dispatches that were not purely commercial, and in case of emergency the Board could send its own draft to the Secret Committee of the Directors to be signed and sent out in its name.
    • The Court of Directors retained their patronage and their right of dismissing their servants.
  • In India:
    • The government of India was placed under the governor general and a council of three, thus giving greater power to the former.
    • 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.
      • Act also modified the Councils of Madras and Bombay on the pattern of that of Bengal.
    • 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.
      • The Governor General was still left liable to be over-ridden by the Council but as the number of Councillors was reduced to three, he, by the use of his casting vote, could always make his will predominate if he had one supporter.
      • Beyond this the Act of 1784 did not go. This defect was met in the Act of 1793, whereby the Governor General was empowered to disregard the majority in Council provided he did so in a formal way accepting the responsibility of his own action.
    • Under the Act of 1784 the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay were subordinated to the Governor-General and Council of Bengal in all matters of diplomacy, revenue and war.
      • Thus Calcutta becoming in effect, the capital of Company possessions in India.
      • The power of the governor general over presidencies was now enlarged and more clearly defined.
      • The governor general in council in his turn was subordinated to the Court of Directors and the Board of Control.
        • The Governor General Council was now under indirect control of the British Government through the Board of Control.
      • Thus a clear hierarchy of command and more direct parliamentary control over Indian administration was established.
    • Only covenanted servants were in future to be appointed members of the Council of the Governor-General. The experiment of appointing outsiders had proved calamitous.
  • Among the most striking provisions of the Act was the prohibition not merely of all aggressive wars in India but of all treaties of guarantee with Indian Princes like those with the nawabs of Camatic and Oudh on the ground that “to pursue schemes of conquest and extension of dominion in India are Measures repugnant to the wish, the honour and the policy of this nation.”
    • But this declaration was more honoured in breach than in observance in subsequent years.
    • It is true that for a short period after the passage of the Pitt’s India Act in 1784 there was parliamentary prohibition on imperial expansion, and the major thrust of the policy of the Board of Control and the East India Company during this time was to protect British possessions and promote trading interests through a careful balance of power between the Indian states, thus reducing imperial military liabilities.
    • But that cautious policy was jettisoned when Lord Wellesley arrived as governor general in 1798, with a dream of conquest and a lust for personal glory.
  • Disclosing of Property:
    • All civil and military officers of the East India Company 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.
  • The constitution set up by Pitt’s India Act did not undergo any major changes until the end of the company’s rule in India in 1858.

Assessment of Pitts India Act 1784:

  • Pitt’s India Act of 1784 brought about important changes in the constitution of the Company:
  • It constituted a department of state in England known as the Board of Control, whose special function was to control the policy of the Court of Directors, thus introducing the Dual System of government by the Company and by a Parliamentary Board which lasted till 1858.
  • The Act placed the civil and military government of the Company in due subordination to the Government in England.
  • This Act removed many faults of Regulating Act 1773.
    • It ended an inappropriate division of authority in India by making the Governor-General supreme over the subordinate governments of Bombay and Madras.
    • By reducing Governor General Council’s members to three, it removed one of the shortcoming of Regulating Act 1773, as now Governor General found easier to get majority in any decision and in case of tie, he had final say.
  • Pitt’s India Act settled the main lines of the Company’s Home and Indian Government down to 1858.
    • For e.g. the head of the Board was at first one of the Secretaries of State without special salary, but after 1793 a special President of the Board was appointed and this officer was ultimately responsible for the government of British India until he was succeeded in 1858 by the Secretary of State for India.
  • The Act was a very skillful measure bearing all the marks of a political compromise.
    • Burke admitted that it was “as able and skillful a performance for its own purposes as ever issued from the wit of man.”
    • Pitt, as Sir Courtney Ilbert has pointed out, has done two things:
      • he had avoided the charge of conferring patronage on the Crown, and
      • the appearance of radically altering the Company and the Government in England.
  • P.J. Marshall (1968) has argued that until 1784 (i.e., the passage of Pitt’s India Act), there was no conscious or consistent British policy for political conquest in India.
    • Authority at home remained divided between the Court of Directors of the East India Company and the tenuous regulatory power of the government, with no one seemingly interested in acquiring territories in India until 1784.
  • The Act still had too many defects.
    • The first and foremost was the provision of two masters for the governor general the Court of Directors and the Board of Control-which gave virtual autonomy to the man on the spot.
    • The governor general could easily play his two masters one against another and act at his own discretion.
    • But on the other hand, a factious council and the inability of the governor general to override its decisions could often make him ineffective, particularly as his right to use the army had been curbed.
  • The act was deemed a failure.
    • This was because; very soon it became apparent that the boundaries between government control and the company’s powers were nebulous and highly subjective.
    • The act divided the responsibility between the Board of Control, Court of Directors and the Governor General in Council but again, no boundaries could be fixed as they matter was subjective and not objective.
  • The British Government felt obliged to respond to humanitarian calls for better treatment of local peoples in British-occupied territories. The Board of control was alleged for nepotism.

The Act of 1786

  • In 1786, Pit brought another supplementary bill in the Parliament relating to India to convince Cornwallis to accept the Governor-Generalship in India.
  • Cornwallis wanted to have the powers of both the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief. The new Act conceded this demand as Governor General was made Commander – in – Chief.
    • It resulted in Warren Hastings for the first time enjoying the two positions simultaneously.
    • An effective and authoritarian instrument of control was thus put in place, which continued till 1858 with only little modifications.”
  • Governor General was also given power to override his Council in extraordinary cases on his own responsibility.


  • The East India Company Act 1793, or Charter Act of 1793, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which renewed the charter issued to the British East India Company (EIC) for twenty years, giving it possession of all territories in India during that period and continued the Company’s rule in India.
  • In contrast with legislation concerning British India proposed in the preceding two decades, the 1793 Act “passed with minimal trouble”.
  • The Act made only fairly minimal changes to either the system of government in India or British oversight of the Company’s activities.
  • Company’s trade monopoly was continued for a further 20 years. The Company’s charter was next renewed by the Charter Act of 1813.

Provisions of the Act:

  • The Act recognized the Company’s political functions and clearly established that the” acquisition of sovereignty by the subjects of the Crown is on behalf of the Crown and not in its own right.”
  • 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.
  • Indian administration:
    • The Governor-General was granted extensive powers over the subordinate presidencies.
      • Hence the Governors of Bombay and Madras were brought more decisively under his control.
    • Governor General was empowered to disregard the majority in the Council in special circumstances. Thus more powers were entrusted in him.
      • The Governor General and respective governors of the other presidencies could now override the respective councils.
      • Hence the power which has been specifically given to Cornwallis on his appointment to override his Council was extended to all future Governors-General and Governors.
    • 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.
    • A regular code of all regulations that could be enacted for the internal government of the British territories in Bengal was framed.
      • The regulation applied to all rights, person and property of the Indian people and it bound the courts to regulate their decisions by the rules and directives contained therein.
      • All laws were to be printed with translations in Indian languages, so that people could know of their rights, privileges and immunities.
      • The act thus introduced in India the concept of a civil law, enacted by a secular human agency and applied universally.
    • The 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.
  • Home Government:
    • Regarding Home Government, the first-named Commissioner of the Board of Control was to be its President. The two junior members need no longer be members of the Privy Council.
    • Salaries for the staff and paid members of the Board of Control were also now charged to the Company.
      • Hence all the members were in future to be paid salaries not out of the State Exchequer but out of Indian revenues. This practice continued up to 1919.
    • Royal approval was mandated for the appointment of the Governor-General, the governors, and the Commander-in-Chief.
  • Senior officials were forbidden from leaving India without permission.
    • If a high official departed from India without permission, it was to be treated as resignation.
  • The EIC was empowered to grant licences to both individuals and Company employees to trade in India (known as the privilege or “country” trade), which paved the way for shipments of opium to China.
  • William Wilberforce had wanted to include two more clauses into the act:
    • One would declare that the purpose of British rule in India would be to work towards the moral and spiritual uplift of the Indians and
    • would allow entry of appropriate persons, such as teachers and missionaries, into India to achieve that imperial goal.
    • Both the clauses were, however, dropped, but only till the next renewal of the charter.


  • The East India Company Act 1813′, also known as the Charter Act of 1813, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which renewed the charter issued to the British East India Company, and continued the Company’s rule in India.
  • Company’s trade monopoly was continued for a further 20 years. The Company’s charter was next renewed by the Charter Act of 1833.

Background of the Charter Act of 1813:

  • The extent of the Company’s territories in India had so much expanded that it was considered to be well-nigh impossible for it to continue as both a commercial and a political functionary.
  • Englishmen demanded a share in the trade with India in view of the new economic theories of laissez faire and the Continental System introduced by Napoleon which had closed the European ports to British trade. Hence they demanded the termination of the commercial monopoly of the Company.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte had put in place the 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 and dissolve the monopoly of the East India Company.
    • The free traders had become dominant in British politics and were demanding free access to India.
      • They argued that this would bring capital and skills, and with the establishment of industries and introduction of new agricultural techniques, it would result in development and improvement for India.
  • 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.
  • In 1808 the House of Commons appointed a committee of investigation, which submitted its report in 1812.
  • The Bentharnite reformists and the Evangelicals too tried to influence British politics and British policies in India and they gained a decisive voice when the Evangelist Charles Grant was elected to the Court of Directors.
  • The Charter Act of 1813 incorporated in a significant way all these aspirations for change in Britain’s India policy.

Provisions of the Act:

  • The Act renewed the Company’s charter for twenty years, and during that period it was allowed to have the territorial possessions and revenues.
    • But at the same time the act asserted the “undoubted sovereignty of the Crown of the United Kingdom” over the Indian territories.
    • Thus, the charter act of 1813, for the first time explicitly defined the constitutional position of the British territories in India.
  • 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.
  • This act also empowered the local governments to impose taxes on the persons subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
  • The Company was deprived of its monopoly of trade with India, although its monopoly of China trade and tea trade was left untouched for another twenty years.
    • Subject to these restrictions, the Indian trade was thrown open to all Englishmen.
    • The shareholders of the Company opposed this move though they did not stand to lose much as they were granted a dividend of 10.5% out of the revenue of India.
  • The power and superintendence and direction of the Board of Control was not only defined but also enlarged.
  • The power of the provincial governments and courts in India over European British subjects was also strengthened.
  • Financial provision was made to encourage a revival in Indian literature and for the promotion of science.
    • A sum of Rs. 1 Lakh was to be set apart annually and applied to the revival and improvement of literature and the encouragement of the learned natives of India and for introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories in India.
  • This act made provisions to grant permission to the persons who wished to go to India for promoting moral and religious improvements. (Christian Missionaries)
    • Christian missionaries were henceforth to be allowed to enter India, subject only to obtaining a licence either from the Court of Directors or the Board of Control.”
  • The Charter Act of 1813 was thus an important benchmark in the push towards westernisation of India.

Lord Minto retired in 1813. He was succeeded by Lord Hastings also known as Lord Moira.



  • The Government of India Act 1833 or The Charter Act of 1833 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and it gave another lease of life to the Company for next 20 years.
    • The charter was renewed for another 20 years, but the company was asked to close its commercial business.
    • Thus, this time the charter was renewed on the condition that Company should abandon its trade entirely, alike with India and China, and permit Europeans to settle freely in India.
    • The act, first of all, threw open judicial positions to Indians and provided for the appointment of a law commission for codification of laws.


  • The 20 years renewal of the charter in 1813 ran out in 1833.
  • 20 Years between Charter Act of 1813 and 1833 witnessed great changes in England. Industrial Revolution had made great impact.
    • Cheap products of the new machines and their export overseas widened the outlook of the people.
    • Class consciousness gave a new tone to British politics. A new class of intelligentsia emerged to take up matters on behalf of the labourers.
  • In 1830, the Whigs came into power and opened the way for the triumph of the liberal principles. The gospel of the Rights of Man was openly preached and the doctrine of free trade was widely accepted.
  • The political atmosphere in Britain at that time was also fully charged with enthusiasm for reform, as the Reform Act of 1832 had just been passed.
  • It was in this atmosphere of reform and liberal ideas that the Parliament was called upon to view the Charter of the Company in 1833.
  • This was the time for the government to do a careful assessment of the functioning of the company in India.
    • When the charter was again due for renewal in 1833, there was a fresh and more widespread agitation in Britain for the abolition of the Company and a direct takeover of the Indian administration by the government.
    • But this view was not shared by the majority in the Parliament and it agreed with Macaulay that the Company’s rule in India had to be continued though on a different basis.
    • A parliamentary inquiry was held, and the Act of 1833, which followed from its recommendations, became a landmark in the constitutional history of India.
  • Macaulay was the Secretary to the Board of Control and James Mill, a disciple of Bentham, occupied a high position at the India House. They influenced the Charter Act of 1833

Provisions of the Act:

(1) India as a British Colony:

  • The charter act of 1813 legalized the British 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” for the service of Government of India.
  • It ended the activities of the British East India Company as a commercial body and became a purely administrative body.
    • In particular, the company lost its monopoly in China and also the trade of tea which it enjoyed with Charter act of 1813.
    • Henceforth the Company was meant only to have political functions, and here too the Indian possessions of the Company were to be held in trust for the British Crown.
  • It redesignated the Governor-General of Bengal as the Governor-General of India.
    • Thus with Charter Act of 1833, Lord William Bentinck became the “First Governor General of British India”.
    •  The Governor General of India, in consultation with his council, control all civil, military and revenue matters in the whole of India.
  • The Governor-General in council was given the power to control, superintend and direct the civil and military affairs of the Company.
    • With the extension of territories and influx of British settlers into India, there was need for uniform laws. The governor general in council was, therefore, empowered to legislate for the whole of British territories in India and these laws were to be applicable to all persons, British or Indian.
    • Central government was to have complete control over raising of revenues and expenditure. i.e. 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 to 3. 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 fourth person to be appointed as the law member of the Council was Lord Macaulay.
  • The President of the Board of Control now became the Minister for Indian Affairs, while the board was empowered to superintend all administrative affairs in India.

(2) Split in Bengal Presidency:

  • The Charter Act of 1833 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.

(3) Enhanced Power of Governor General of India:

  • It deprived the Governors of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers.
  • The Governor-General was given exclusive legislative powers for the whole of British India.
  • Governor-General-in-Council 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 veto any laws made by the Governor-General-in-Council.

(4) 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 Act of 1833 authorized the Governor-General to appoint Indian Law Commissioners to study, collate and codify various rules and regulations prevalent in India.
    • The Governor-General-in-Council was directed under the Charter act of 1833, to set up an Indian law Commission.
  • First Indian Law Commission:
    • The first law commission was set up by the Charter act of 1833 and Lord Macaulay was its Chairman.
    • 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.
  • The law commission appointed under Lord Macaulay completed the task of codification by 1837, but it had to wait until after the revolt of 1857 for full implementation.
    • The Code of Civil Procedure was introduced in 1859, the Indian Penal Code in 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code in 1862.
    • The new codes, as Radhika Singha has argued, sought to establish “the universal principles of jurisprudence”, based on “a notion of indivisible sovereignty and its claims over an equal abstract and universal legal subject”.

(5) Indians in the Government service:

  • The section 87 of the Charter Act of 1833, declared that merit was to be the basis for employment in Government Services and the religion, birth place, and race of the candidates were not to be considered in employment.
  • 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.
    • Though Company’s services in India were thrown open to the natives; but there was no provision for their being nominated to the covenanted services.
  • It attempted to introduce a system of open competitions for the selection of civil servants.
    • However this provision was negated after opposition from the Court of Directors who continued to hold the privilege of appointing Company officials.
    • It was limited competition among the candidates nominated by the directors and therefore could not improve the situation.
    • Finally, the Charter Act of 1853 introduced the principle of open competition; civil servants for India were henceforth to be recruited through an examination open to all “natural born subject of Her Majesty”.

(6) Mitigation of Slavery:

  • This act also directed the Governor General-in-Council to adopt measures to mitigate the state of slavery, persisting in India.
    • Slavery had been abolished in Britain in 1820, and in India the colonial administrators continued to detect its existence in various forms.
  • Finally by the Act V of 1843, the slavery was abolished in India.
  • 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.

(7) 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.

Significance of the Act of 1833

  • The Act of 1833 brought important and far reaching changes in the constitution of India.
    • The Company was relieved of its monopoly of tea trade in India and of the trade with China, thus completing the work of the Charter Act of 1813.
    • The Company having lost its commercial privileges could now concentrate on administration.
  • The provision for the codification of law was of great consequences.
    • Before 1833, laws were so imperfect that in many cases it was quite impossible to ascertain what the law was. There were several types of laws enforceable in India and it was difficult to decide as to which law was applicable in a particular case.
  • The provisions concerning the abolition of slavery and the throwing open to all, irrespective of religion, place of birth, descent and color, services in India are other commendable features of the Act.
  • Drain of wealth:
    • The debts of the Company were taken over by the Indian government which agreed to pay its shareholders a 10.5% dividend on their capital out of the Indian revenues for the next 40 years.
    • This added to the burden of India and proved to be an important component of drain of wealth.



  • Although in India, demands were being raised for the abolition of the Company rule, the British government was not yet so sure about such a measure.
  • As the time approached for the renewal of the Company’s Charter there was growing demand that the Double Government of the Company in England should be ended. The demand was made for reasons such as:
    • the Court of Directors had outlived its usefulness and
    • the existence of the Court of Directors and the Board of Control only resulted in unnecessary delay in the dispatch of business and undue expenditure.
  • It was also felt that the existing legislative machinery under the Charter Act of 1833 was inadequate.
  • Voice was also raised against the Governor-General of India continuing also as the Governor of Bengal as this could lead to a bias in favour of Bengal.
  • Also great territorial and political changes had taken place since the Charter Act of 1833.
    • Sind and Punjab had been announced to the Company’s territories in 1843 and 1849 respectively.
    • A number of Indian states had fallen victim to Dalhoune’s policy of ruthless annexation.
    • The newly acquitted territories had to be constitutionally provided for.
  • There was also demand for the decentralisation of powers and for giving the people of India a share in the management of their own affairs for which there was some support in England too.
  • It was under these circumstances that the British Parliament was called upon to renew the Charter of the Company in 1853.

Provisions of the Charter Act of 1853:

  • The charter of 1833 was renewed in 1853, but this time not for another twenty years.
    • The Company was allowed to retain the Indian possessions “in trust for Her Majesty, her heirs and successors until Parliament shall otherwise provide“, thus keeping the door open for a future takeover.
  • The Act provided that the salaries of the members of the Board of Control, its Secretary and other officers would be fixed by the British Government but would be paid by the Company.
  • The number of the members of the Court of Directors was reduced from 24 to 18 out of which 6 were to be nominated by the Crown.
  • The act also provided for the separation of the executive and legislative functions of the governor general’s council by adding new members for legislative purposes.
    • Thus in India, the separation of the executive and the legislative functions was carried a step further.
    • The Law Member was made a full member of the Governors General’s Executive Council and this Council while sitting in its legislative capacity was enlarged by the addition of 6 members:
      • the Chief Justice and a puisne judge of Calcutta Supreme Court and
      • four representatives, one each from Bengal, Madras, Bombay and the North Western Provinces.
    • The provincial representatives wore to be civil servants of the Company with not less than ten years’ standing.
    • The Governor General was empowered to appoint two more civil servants to the Council though this power was newer actually excreted.
  • The procedure of the Council was to be on the lines of the British Parliament.
    • Questions could be asked and the policy of the Executive Council could be discussed, though the Executive Council retained the power to veto a bill of the Legislative Council.
    • Discussion in the Council became oral instead of in writing.
    • Bills were referred to Select Committees instead of a single member.
    • The legislative business was conducted in public instead of in secret.
  • The Company’s control over appointments was curtailed by the introduction of competition for the recruitment of the Indian Civil Service.
    • The Count of Directors was dispossessed of its power of patronage as services were thrown open to competitive examinations, in which no discrimination of any kind was to be made. 
    • A committee with Macaulay as President was appointed in 1854 to enforce this scheme.
  • The Count of Directors was empowered to constitute a new Presidency or to alter the boundaries of the existing ones to incorporate the newly acquired territories.
    • This provision was made use of to create a separate Lieutenant-Governorship for the Punjab in 1859. 
  • The Act also empowered the Crown to appoint a Law Commission in England to examine the reports and the drafts of the Indian Law Commission which had by then ceased to exist, and recommended legislative measures.

Significance on the Act:

  • Already deprived of its commercial privileges, the Company hereafter hardly ever controlled policies in India.
  • The Act was a compromise between two conflicting views:
    • Those who favoured the retention of the Company’s territorial authority:
      • They were satisfied by the provision that the Company should continue to govern India in trust for the Crown until Parliament should otherwise direct.
    • Those who wanted the substitution of Crown control for that of the Company:
      • They found to their satisfaction that the number of Directors was reduced from 24 to 18 of whom 6 wore to be nominees of the Crown and that the quorum was fixed at 10 so that when the meetings of the Court were thinly attended, the nominees of the Crown were able to have a majority. The Directors lost their patronage.
  • In actual working, the newly formed legislative Council threatened to alter the whole structure of Indian Government.
    • Contrary to intentions of the frames of the Act, the Legislative Council had developed into an Anglo-Indian House of Commons, questioning the Executive and its acts and forcing it to lay even confidential papers before it.
    • It asserted its right to independent legislation. This disturbed its author, Sir Charles Wood, President of the Board of Control. To remove doubts, he declared: “I do not look upon the Legislative Council as some of the young Indians do as the nucleus and beginning of constitutional Parliament in India.
    • The creation of functioning of the Legislative Council made the Act of 1853 an important constitutional measures of the 19th century.
  • But the defect of the Act was the continued exclusion of the people of India with the work of legislation.



  • The Charter Act of 1853 had laid down that the Company was to retain the territories and the revenues in India in trust for the Crown not for any specified period as preceding Charter Acts had provided but only until Parliament should otherwise direct.
    • The door was thus left open for the Crown to step in any time and take over the administration from the hands of the Company.
  • Crisis of 1857 Revolt gave the opportunity:
    • The revolt made the English people more aware of the Indian situation and generated popular support for the perpetuation as well as reorganisation of British rule there.
    • The crisis of 1857-58 gave a fillip to the demand that a trading company should not be allowed to continue as a political power.
    • When reorganisation took place after the crisis it furnished an opportunity for transferring control from the Company to the Crown.
  • Since 1833, many English traders and settlers had also developed a vested interest in India and their persistent complaint was that the Company had been neglecting their interests.
  • Both at home and in India there had been now considerable pressure for the abolition of the Company Raj and the establishment of Crown rule.
  • According to Lord Palmerston, the first defect of the Company’s rule was its utter irresponsibility.
    • Another defect was the cumbrous, complex and irrational nature of the system of Double Government.
  • Disraeli (as the Chancellor of Exchequer and Lord Derby as PM) introduced a new India Bill but it was ridiculed by Palmerston who was now in the opposition.
    • The Act for the Better Government of India as passed and received the Royal assent on August 2, 1858.
    • This act provided that India was to be governed directly and in the name of the crown.
    • This act is coterminous with Queen Victoria’s declaration, 1858.

Provisions of the Act

  • Transferred powers from the East India Company to the Crown.
    • The Company’s territories in India were to be vested in the Queen.
    • All the property of the East India Company was transferred to the Crown. The Crown also assumed the responsibilities of the Company as they related to treaties, contracts, and so forth
    • India was to be governed in the Queen’s name.
  • India shall be governed by and in the name of the sovereign through one of the principal Secretaries of State (Secretary of State of India), assisted/ advised by a Council of 15 members.
    • The Act replaced the President of the Board of Control with a Secretary of State for India, who became “in subordination to the cabinet, the fountain of authority as well as the director of policy in India“.
    • A member of British Parliament was made secretary of state of India to exercise powers on behalf of the Crown and was responsible to the British Parliament.
    • Of the 15 members of the Council of the Secretary of State, 8 were to be appointed by the Crown and 7 were to be selected from the now superseded Court of Directors.
      • The vacancy among the Crown nominees would be filled up by the Crown, while among those elected by the Directors would be filled up by the Council by election.
    • At least half of these members must have served in India for not less than ten years and they must not have been away from that country for more than ten years at the time of their appointment.
    • The members would continue in office during good behaviour and would be removed only on petition, to the Crown by both the Houses of Parliament.
  • The Council was to be advisory, in most cases the initiative and the final decision remained with the Secretary of State.
  • The Secretary of State received the powers so long enjoyed by the Court of Directors and the Board of Control.
    • Thus the system of ‘Double Government’ introduced by Pitt’s India of 1784 was abolished.
  • The Crown was empowered to appoint a Governor-General and the Governors of the Presidencies.
  • The Governor General of India received the title of Viceroy.
    • He became the direct representative of the Crown.
    • He would retain all his powers. But instead of a dual control, he would be answerable only to the secretary of state.
    • His prestige, if not his statutory authority, was increased.
  • Provision for the creation of an Indian Civil Service under the control of the Secretary of State.
    • Appointments to the Covenanted Civil Service were to be made by open competition under the rules laid down by the Secretary of State with the help of Civil Service Commissioners.
    • But continuity was maintained in the structure of the civil service, and the same recruitment examination introduced in 1853 was carried on.
  • The Act declared the Secretary of State for India as a corporate body who could sue and be sued in England and in India.


  • The Act ushered in a new period of Indian history, bringing about the end of Company rule in India.
    • The era of the new British Raj would last until Partition of India in August 1947, at which time all of the territory of the Raj was granted dominion status within the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India.
  • The Government of India Act of 1858 meant rather a formal than a substantive change.
    • The Crown had been steadily increasing its control over the Company’s affairs since the beginning of its territorial sovereignty.
    • Beginning from the Regulating Act, a series of statutes (of 1784, 1793, 1813, 1833, and 1853) had progressively reduced the powers of the Court of Directors, till they had become just nominal.
    • The main rules under which India was governed before the passing of the Act of 1858 were already those of the British parliament.
    • The British administrators, including the Governor General, though nominally the servants of the Company’s Board of Control, were in reality answerable to the British Cabinet with its Indian Minister who was the President of the Board of Control and through them to Parliament.
    • The Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833 had explicitly declared the sovereignty of the Crown over the territories acquired by the Company and the Charter Act of 1853 declared that the Company was to hold the territories and the revenues of India in trust for the Crown till it was determined otherwise.
    • The number of Directors, under the Act of 1853, was reduced from 24 to 18 of whom 6 were to be nominees of the Crown. The choicest flower in the bunch was indeed taken away when the Directors were deprived of their power of patronage. 
    • The Company had been dead as a political power long before 1858, but its skin was still preserved as though it was still alive. All that the Act of 1858 did was to give a decent burial to that corpse.
  • In terms of the administrative structure, the Government of India Act of 1858 meant more continuation than change. (as given in provisions of the Act)
  • India thus passed from Company rule to Crown rule, which meant ironically the rejection of a liberal promise of reforming India in order to prepare her for self-government.
    • It meant, in other words, a “symbolic endorsement of British permanence in India”.
    • The liberal zeal for reform and change had by this time died down and in the aftermath of revolt one could discern in every aspect of British policy in India what Thomas Metcalf has called a “new attitude of caution and conservatism”.
    • There was now an assertion of the racial superiority of the ruling race, which carefully distanced itself from the subject society in order to formalise a more authoritarian regime.
    • Indians were held to be ‘tradition bound’ and therefore beyond reform to live up to the high moral standards of the West.
    • And trust was reposed in their ‘natural leaders’, the landed gentry and the aristocrats, who were restored to prominence, in the hope of securing their loyalty.
    • The situation, which Anand Yang has described as the “Limited Raj” where the colonial regime depended on local power elites like zamindars for the administration of the interior, was indeed contributing to the foundation of a more authoritarian Raj.

Slackening of the control of Parliament

  • It may sound paradoxical but it is true that the control and interest of Parliament over Indian affairs slackened from the time it assumed control in appearance and reality in 1858.
  • When power was in the hands of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors, Parliament asserted its authority.
    • But when the Board of Control and the Court of Directors were replaced by the Secretary of State for India who was responsible to Parliament, the latter was satisfied.
    • It was satisfied because it got what it wanted to get and neglected to exercise the power of continuously controlling and criticising Indian administration.
  • Another reason was that the Secretaries of State for India were far abler men than the members of the Board of Control had been.
    • The quick means of communication between India and England made Indian news available in England much more swiftly than ever before.
    • Parliament was content with leaving the Secretary of State alone to act as he pleased.
    • The Secretaries of State managed the affairs of India efficiently and there were no occasions for Parliament to give any directions to them or interfere in their work.
  • Moreover, from 1857 to 1915, British politicians and parties had their hands full with affairs of their own and they had neither the inclination nor time to study Indian problems.
  • The intricacy and vastness of the Indian problems made it hardly worthwhile to pursue them.
  • As the most brilliant Englishmen had entered the Indian Civil Service and were carrying on the administration of India efficiently, it was thought both ungenerous and unnecessary, from the British point of view, to criticise them.
  • Thus, developed the theory of trusting the man on the spot and supporting him and leaving him alone.
  • The Secretary of State backed the Governor General and the letter in turn the Governors and so on.


  • The Indian Councils Act 1861 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.


  • The Act of 1858 exclusively introduced changes in the Home Government. It did not touch the administrative set-up in India.
  • There was a strong feeling that sweeping changes in the constitution of India were called for after the great Revolt of 1857, especially in the direction of establishing closer contacts with Indian public opinion.
    • Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of Bombay, pointed out: “Unless you have some barometer or safety valve in the shape of a deliberative council, you will always be liable to very unlooked for and dangerous explosions (like 1857 Revolt).”
    • Syed Ahmed Khan opined that one of the major causes of the crisis of 1857-58 was the want of contact between the rulers and the ruled.
    • But question of associating Indians with the work of legislation was put off till things had settled down.
  • Other reasons which necessitated changes in the constitution of India:
    • By the Charter Act of 1833 legislation had been centralised.
      • The Lagislative Council (at the Centre) had alone the power to legislate for the whole of the country. It dealt with all legislative matters, great and small.
      • It was ill fitted to do its job on account of its ignorance of the conditions prevailing in different parts of the vast country.
      • Nor had the Council the will or the time to seek out certain common legislative standards applicable to all parts of the country.
    • The working of the existing Legislative Council, set up by the Charter Act of 1853, had many shortcomings:
      • The Council had become a sort of a debating society or a Parliament on a small scale.
      • It had arrogated to itself all the functions and privileges of a representative body.
      • It adopted all the formalities of parliamentary procedure in the making of laws such as three readings and reference to committees which all caused delay.
      • Trying to act as an independent legislature, it sometimes stopped supplies, and did not work entirely according to the wishes of the Home Government.
      • It embarrassed the Indian Government by calling for information including secret matters.
      • All this the authorities in England desired to correct.
  • After an exchange of views between the Home Government and the Government of India, the first Indian Councils Act was passed in 1861.

Provisions of the Act

  • 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.
  • Changes for the executive functions of the Council:
    • The Executive Council of the Governor General was expanded and a fifth member of law was added.
      • Five members: home, revenue, military, law, finance, and after 1874, 6th member of public work
    • The Act empowered the Governor-General to make rules for the more convenient transaction of business in the Council.
      • This power was used by Lord Canning to introduce the portfolio system (Cabinet type) in the Government of India.
      • Up to that time the theory was that the Government of India was a government by the entire body of the Executive Council; so all business and all official papers had to be brought to the notice of the members of the Council. This system was very cumbrous and inconvenient.
        • Now each member of the Council of the Governor General was allocated portfolio of a particular department. 
        • Thus were laid the foundations of Cabinet Government of India, each branch of the Administration having its official head.
      • Under the new system the routine matters of administration were disposed of by the member in charge.
        • The more important matters were placed by the member concerned before the Governor-General and decided in consultation with him.
        • Only matters of general policy now came before the Executive Council as a whole.
      • The decentralisation of business made for efficiency.
  • Changes for the legislative functions of the Council:
    • For purposes of legislation, the Viceroy’s Executive Council was expanded by the addition of not less than 6 and not more than 12 ‘additional’ members, who would be nominated by the Governor General and would hold office for two years.
    • Out of these, not less than half were required to be Non-Official (English or Indian).
    • 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 it would have no control over administration or finance or right of interpellation.
    • 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.
    • Imperial legislative Council was merely an advisory body.
    • The Viceroy was allowed, under the provisions of the Act, to overrule the council on affairs if he deemed it necessary – as was the case in 1879, during the tenure of Lord Lytton.
  • Ordinance making power of Governor General:
    • The Governor General was empowered, in cases of emergency, to issue, without the concurrence of the Legislative Council, ordinances which were to remain in force for not more than six months.
  • Restoration of legislative 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 the power of legislation to the governor-in-councils of Madras and Bombay in respective matters.
      • However, no laws passed by the provincial councils were to be valid until those received the assent of the Governor General.
      • Further, in certain matters (e.g. Currency, Posts and Telegraphs, naval and military matters) the prior approval of the Governor General was made obligatory.
    • The legislative council at Calcutta was given extensive authority to pass laws for British India as a whole, while the legislative councils at Bombay and Madras were given the power to make laws for the “Peace and good Government” of their respective presidencies.
  • Formation of legislative councils in other provinces:
    • The act laid down the provision for the formation of legislative councils by Governor General in other provinces.
      • The Governor General was given the power to create new provinces for legislative purposes and also could appoint Lt. Governors for the same.
    • Legislative Councils were established in Bengal, the North Western Provinces (now called Uttar Pradesh) and the Punjab in 1862, 1886 and 1897 respectively under a provision in the Act of 1861.


  • The gradual construction and consolidation of the mechanical framework of the government:
    • The three separate presidencies were brought into a common system.
    • The legislative and administrative authority of the Governor General in Council was asserted over all the provinces and extended to all their inhabitants.
    • The principal of recognising local needs and welcoming local knowledge was admitted, so that local councils were created or re created and a few non official and even Indian members were introduced for the purposes of advice.
  • Laid the foundation of legislative devolution:
    • The Act by vesting legislative powers in the Governments of Bombay and Madras and by making provision for the institution of similar legislative councils in other provinces laid the foundations of legislative devolution culminating in the grant of autonomy to the provinces by the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • The Secretary of State for India at the time the Act was passed, Sir Charles Wood, believed that the Act was of immense importance: “the act is a great experiment. That everything is changing in India is obvious enough, and that the old autocratic government cannot stand unmodified is indisputable.”
  • Criticism:
    • By the Act of 1861 no attempt was made to demarcate the jurisdiction of the Central and Local legislatures as in federal constitutions.
      • The Governor General’s Council could legislate for the whole of India, and the provincial council for the whole of the province, with the reservation that before doing so in respect of certain matters the Governor General’s sanction had to be obtained.
    • The act did little to improve the influence of Indians in the legislative council. The role of council was limited to advice. No financial discussion could take place.
    • Not true legislature:
      • The legislative councils could not possibly be called true legislature either in composition or in functions.
      • The councils were merely committees for the purpose of making laws- committees by means of which the executive government obtained the advice and assistance in their legislation.
      • The ex officio and the official members were in a majority and every official legislation could be sure of the majority in its favour.
        • This was all the more easy because the nominated non official members (who were always in a minority) were reluctant to attend the sessions of the Council and were always in a hurry to depart.
    •  The functions of the new councils were strictly limited to legislation.
      • The councils could not inquire into grievances, call for information or examine the conduct of the executive.
      • The conduct of administration including all matters connected with finance remained under the exclusive purview and control of the wholly official Executive Councils.
    • The Act in no way established representative government in India.
      • Sir Charles Wood, the Secretary of State, while introducing the Bill made it clear that Her Majesty’s Government had no intention to introduce a representative law-making body in normal sense.
      • He likened the functions of the proposed Legislative Councils to those of the durbar of an Indian ruler where the nobles expressed their opinion but the ruler was not bound by their advice.


  • The Indian Councils Act 1892 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that authorized an increase in the size of the various legislative councils in British India.


  • The growth of the Indian Constitution after the Act of 1861 is largely the story of political disaffection and agitation alternating with Council reform.
    • The reforms grudgingly conceded were always found inadequate, occasioned disaffection and evoked demand for further reforms.
    • It is true of all subsequent Acts passed by the British Parliament relating to India, namely the Acts of 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935.
  • The Legislative Council created by the Act of 1861, naturally enough, failed to satisfy the aspirations of the people of the land.
    • The element of non officials, negligible as it was, did not even represent the people.
    • It consisted of either big zamindars, retired officials or Indian princes, none of whom could claim to understand the problems of the people.
  • The initial objective of the Congress was to mobilise public opinion in India, to ventilate the grievances of the people and to press for reforms in a constitutional but nonetheless in an emphatic manner.
  • Before the Act of 1892 was passed, the Indian National Congress had adopted some resolutions in its sessions in 1885 and 1889 and put its demand.
    • One of the demand was: Reforms of the legislative council and adoption of the principle of election in place of nomination and and all budgets should be referred to these Councils for consideration.
    • The Indian leaders wanted admission of a considerable number of the elected members.
    • The Indian leaders wanted a right to discussion on budget matters.
    • They also wanted the creation of similar councils of North western Province and Oudh and also for Punjab
    • These demands reflected the dissatisfaction of the Indian National Congress over the existing system of governance.
  • In the beginning the attitude of the British Government was friendly and sympathetic towards the Congress but by 1888 that attitude changed.
    • Lord Dufferin in that year made a frontal attack on the Congress by dubbing it as representing only ‘a microscopic minority’ and Congress demands as ‘a big jump into the unknown’.
  • Though Lord Dufferin thus tried to belittle the importance and representative character of the Congress he was astute to realise the significance of the movement launched by the Congress and he secretly sent to England proposals for liberalising the Councils.
    • He also appointed a Committee of his Council to prepare a plan for the enlargement of Provincial Councils, for the enhancement of their status, the multiplication of their functions, the partial introduction in them of the elective principle and the liberalisation of their general character as political institutions.
    • At the same time he declared in plain words that it should not be concluded that he was contemplating to set up a parliamentary system after the British model. He repudiated strongly any such intention on his part.
    • The report of the Committee together with Lord Dufferin’s own views was sent to the authorities in England proposing changes in the composition and functions of the Councils with the main aim to give a still wider share in the administration of public affairs to such Indian gentlemen as their influence is fitted to assist with their counsel the responsible rulers of the country.
  • The Conservative Ministry in England at the instance of Lord Cross, Secretary of state for India, introduced in 1890 a bill in the House of Lords on the basis of these proposals but the measure proceeded at a slow speed and was passed only two years later as the Indian Councils Act.

Provisions of the Act

  • The Act dealt exclusively with the powers, functions and composition of the Legislative Councils in India.
  • The Central Legislature:
    • The Act increased the number of the additional (non-official) members in councils to between 10 and 16.
      • The Council now had:
        • 6 officials,
        • 5 nominated non-officials,
        • 4 nominated by the provincial legislative councils of Bengal Presidency, Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency and North-Western Provinces and
        • 1 nominated by the chamber of commerce in Calcutta.
        • The law member was made a permanent member.
        • In 1892, the council consisted of 24 members, only five being where Indians.
      • The increase was described as ‘a very paltry and miserable addition’. But Curzon defended it on the ground “that the efficiency of a deliberative body is not necessarily commensurate with its numerical strength”.
      • Subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in Council, the Governor General was to make regulations under which the nomination of the additional members was to be made.
    • The Act also provided that two-fifths of the total members of the Council were to be non officials. These non officials were partly nominated and partly elected.
      • The principle of election was conceded to a limited extent. An element of election was sought to be introduced for the first time.
    • The rights of the members of the Legislatures were increased.
      • They were entitled to express their views upon Budget which were henceforth to be made on the floor of the Legislatures.
        • But they were not empowered to move resolutions or divide the House in respect of any financial question.
      • They were empowered to put questions within certain limits to the Government on matters of public interest after giving a six days’ notice.
      • But no right to ask supplementary questions.
  • The provincial legislature:
    • The Act enlarged the number of ‘additional’ members:
      • In case of Bombay and Madras 8-20,
      • in case of the Bengal 20,
      • in case of North Western province and Oudh 15.
    • Hence the Councils in Bombay, Madras and Bengal had a maximum of twenty additional members.
      • Of these, nine were officials, four nominated non officials and seven elected.
      • The electing bodies in the provinces were District Broads and Municipalities, Universities and Chambers of Commerce.
    • In their functions the members of the Provincial Legislatures secured the right of interpellation of the executive in the matters of general public interest.
    • They could also discuss the policy of the Government and ask questions, which required a six days’ previous notice. And their questions too (like centre) could be disallowed without assigning any reason.
  • The Principle of Election under the Act:
    • The significant feature of the Act was the principle of election which it introduced, though the word ‘election’ was very carefully avoided in it.
    • Central Legislature:
      • In addition to the officials, the Central Legislature was to have elected non officials whose number was to be five and who were to be elected:
        • one each by the non-official members of the four Provincial Legislatures of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and the North Western Provinces and
        • one by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce.
      • The other five non officials were nominated by the Governor General.
    • Provincial Legislature:
      • In the case of the Provincial Legislatures, the bodies permitted to elect members were:
        • Municipalities,
        • District Boards,
        • Universities and
        • the Chambers of Commerce.
    • The ‘elected’ members were officially declared as ‘nominated’ though after taking into consideration the recommendation of the bodies described above (to avoid the word ‘election’).


  • The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was an advance on the Act of 1861.
  • The act of 1892 can be said to be a First step towards the beginning of the parliamentary system in India.
  • The principle of election, veiled though it was in the Act of 1892, was a measure of considerable constitutional significance.
  • The Act of 1892 widened the functions of the legislatures.
    • The members could ask questions and thus obtain information which they desired from the executive.
    • The financial accounts of the current year and the budget for the following year were presented to the legislatures, and the members were permitted to make general observations on the budget and make suggestions for increasing or decreasing revenue or expenditure.
    • At least, they were enabled to indulge in a criticism of the Financial Policy of the Government.
  • As the functions of the legislatures were widened they attracted the country’s best talent.
    • Eminent Indian leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Ashutosh Mookerjee, Rash Behari Ghosh and Surendra Nath Banerjee found their way in the Legislatures.
    • Their eloquence and political wisdom amply demonstrated the parliamentary capacity and patriotism of the educated Indians.
  • The size of the Legislatures both at the Centre and in the Provinces was enlarged.
    • In case of the Centre the maximum and minimum of additional members and the element of non officials therein were raised by four in each case as compared to the Act of 1861.
  • Criticism:
    • The Act failed to satisfy Indian nationalists and was criticised at successive sessions of the Indian National Congress.
    • The goal of the representative government was yet a far cry.
    • The system of election in the Act was a roundabout one.
      • The so-called right of election to the Legislatures enjoyed by the local bodies and by other electorates amounted merely to nomination by these bodies, but it was up to the government to accept them or reject them.
    • The rules of election were unsatisfactory. Certain classes were over represented while others did not get any representation at all.
      • In the case of Bombay, out of six seats two were given to European merchants but none to the Indian mercantile community.
      • Two seats were assigned to Sind but none to Poona and Satara.
    • The functions of the Legislative Councils were strictly limited.
      • The members could not ask supplementary questions.
      • Any question could be disallowed and there was no remedy against it.
      • The Councils did not get any substantial control over the budget.
      • In his Presidential address delivered in 1893 at the Lahore session of the Congress, Dadabhai Naoroji observed:
        • By the Act of 1892 no member shall have the power to submit or propose any resolution or divide the Council in respect of any such financial discussion or in answer to any question asked under the authority of this Act or the rules made under this Act. Such is the poor character of the extent of the concession made to discuss finances or to put questions. Rules made under this Act shall not be subject to alterations or amendment at meetings for the purpose of making laws and regulations. Thus , we are to all intent and purposes under an arbitrary rule.”
    • The Act was policy of the British for gradually involving Indians in the British administrative structure with the object of preventing any major upsurge from the nationalist front by creating a permanent group of loyalists.
    • Contrary to the Congress faith in the policy of petition, prayer and protest, the Indian Councils Act did not satisfy the public demand. The congress way of demand was seen as a weakness by the British Government. This was evident from the following note by BG Tilak:“……political rights will have to be fought for. The moderates think that these can be won by persuasion. We Think that they can only be obtained by strong Pressure…”
  • Though the Act of 1892 fell far short of the demands made by the Congress it was undoubtedly a great advance on the existing state of things. By conceding the principle of election of representatives and giving the Legislature some control over the Executive, the Act did pave the way for the introduction of parliamentary responsible government in India.


  • The Indian Councils Act 1909, commonly known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that brought about a limited increase in the involvement of Indians in the governance of British India.
    • The Act amended the Indian Councils Acts of 1861 and 1892
    • The Morley-Minto Reforms, so named after Morley, the secretary of state, and Minto, the viceroy at that time, were preceded by two important events.


  • Discontent among Indians because:
    • The Indian Councils Act of 1892 failed to meet the legitimate wishes of the Congress.
    • Lord Curzon’s imperialist policies and attitudes intensified bitterness of the intelligentsia against alien domination.
      • Curzon had no sympathy for the aspirations of Indians.
      • He completely officialised the Calcutta Corporation, giving it a European majority by reducing total membership by a third, through his infamous Act of 1899.
      • A similar policy was pursued towards the Indian Universities in 1904, which took away the autonomy of these Universities, and in the same year (1904) the Official Secrets Act greatly extended the scope of the term “sedition”.
    • The continuing economic exploitation by the British rulers led to the energetic thesis by patriots like R.C. Dutt, Dadabhai Naoroji and others contending that the impoverishment of the country was the direct result of a deliberate and systematic policy of the foreign rulers.
    • Educated Indians were not given any share, much less their due share in the Government services and the administration.
    • Indian overseas and specially in South Africa were being subjected to humiliation and indignities galore simply because they were Indians.
      • This fanned national resentment and the people of India began to feel that it was vain and futile to hope for improvement in the conditions and treatment of Indians in the British colonies and overseas possessions unless and until they were free in their own homeland.
    • The closing years of the nineteenth century witnessed the horrors of famine and bubonic plague, bringing distress and misery to thousands of people. The people blamed the British Government for their plight.
    • The climax was reached by the infamous Partition of Bengal in 1905 which was considered to be “a subtle attack on the growing solidarity of Bengali nationalism.” The Bengalis felt “humiliated, insulted and tricked” and resorted to a vigorous agitation to get the wrong undone.
    • The press in the country which was free since 1882 took ample notice of all these factors and was extremely critical of the British administration.
  • While the Congress was growing stronger as the exponent of the demand for national freedom, the Muslims generally kept themselves aloof from it.
    • Their ‘indifference’, at its initial stage, was largely due to the policy advocated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It gradually became something like ‘antogonism’ when the British bureaucracy, alarmed at the growing influence of the Congress as a nationaliser, deliberately adopted a policy of ‘divide and rule.’
    • In October 1906, a group of Muslim elites called the Shimla Deputation, led by the Agha Khan, met Lord Minto and demanded separate electorates for the Muslims and representation in excess of their numerical strength in view of ‘the value of the contribution’ Muslims were making ‘to the defence of the empire’.
      • He promised them the same. The die was thus cast and the foundations of Muslim communalism were laid.
  • When the Morley Minto Reforms were announced in 1909, many of these people believed it was because of fear generated by revolutionary activities.
    • As one historian argues, the appointment of Lord S.P. Sinha as the law Member in the viceroy’s executive council was surely the result of pressures generated by terrorist activities.
  • John Morley, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, and the Conservative Viceroy of India, Minto, believed that cracking down on uprising in Bengal was necessary but not sufficient for restoring stability to the British Raj after Lord Curzon’s partitioning of Bengal.
    • They believed that a dramatic step was required to put heart into loyal elements of the Indian upper classes and the growing Westernised section of the population.
    • Then the Secretary of State Morley’s budget speech of 1906 indicated that representative government was going to be introduced in India.
    • If the Indian Councils Act of 1892 was passed to take the wind out of the sails of the Congress movement, that of 1909 was taken into hands by the Indian Government to rally to its side the Moderates in the Indian National Congress and the Muslims in order to buttress the authority of British bureaucracy.
  • A Committee of the Executive Council of the Viceroy had studied the subject and the Government of India sent a despatch to England embodying its proposals.
    • Morley sent back the proposals to be referred to the Local Governments in India for public criticism.
    • The Bill was drafted, and after the approval of the Cabinet, passed by the Parliament in February 1909, to become the Indian Councils Act of 1909.

Provisions of the Act:

  • The size and functions of the Legislatures, both at the Centre and in the Provinces, was enlarged.
  • 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).
  • The Governor-General, with the approval of the Secretary of State for India, made regulations for how members of legislative councils were nominated or elected nominated, and their qualifications.
    • Regulations made in accordance with the Act could not be exercised until laid before both Houses of Parliament, so that either house might object.
  • The number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provincial Legislative Councils was increased.
  • In the Provincial Councils, non-official majority was introduced, but since some of these non-officials were nominated and not elected, the overall non-elected majority remained.
  • In the Imperial Legislative Council, of the total 68 members, 36 were to be the officials and of the 32 non-officials, 27 to be elected and 5 were to be nominated.
    • Of the 27 elected non-officials, 8 seats were reserved for the Muslims under separate electorates (only Muslims could vote here for the Muslim candidates), while 6 seats were reserved for the British capitalists, 2 for the landlords and 13 seats came under general electorate.
  • The elected members were to be indirectly elected.
    • The local bodies were to elect an electoral college, which in turn would elect members of provincial legislatures, who in turn would elect members of the central legislature.
  • Besides separate electorates for the Muslims, representation in excess of the strength of their population was accorded to the Muslims.
    • Also, the income qualification for Muslim voters was kept lower than that for Hindus.
  • Powers of legislatures (both at the centre and provinces) were enlarged:
    • The legislatures could now pass resolutions (which may not be accepted), ask questions and supplementaries, discuss the budgets, suggest the amendments, and even to vote on them; excluding those items that were included as non-vote items.
    • Also they could vote separate items in the budget but the budget as a whole could not be voted upon.
  • One Indian was to be appointed to the viceroy’s executive council (Satyendra Prasad Sinha was the first to be appointed in 1909).
    • Earlier in August 1907 two Indians- K.G. Gupta and Syed Hussain Bilgrami-were made members of the Secretary of State’s India Council.
  • The Indian Councils Act served as the governance structure of India for a decade. It was modified by the Government of India Act 1912,
    • to clarify the authority of the Governor of Bengal,
    • to create a legislative council for the new province of Bihar and Orissa,
    • to dispense with Parliamentary review of the creation of new legislative councils for provinces under a lieutenant-governor and
    • to permit the creation of legislative councils in provinces under chief commissioners.


  • The reforms of 1909 afforded no answer and could afford no answer to the Indian political problem. Lord Morley made it clear that colonial self-government (as demanded by the Congress) was not suitable for India, and he was against introduction of parliamentary or responsible government in India. He said, “If it could be said that led directly or indirectly to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I, for one, would have nothing at all to do with it.”
  • The ‘constitutional’ reforms were, in fact, aimed at dividing the nationalist ranks by confusing the Moderates and at checking the growth of unity among Indians through the obnoxious instrument of separate electorates.
  • The Government aimed at rallying the Moderates and the Muslims against the rising tide of nationalism. The officials and the Muslim leaders often talked of the entire community when they talked of the separate electorates, but in reality it meant the appeasement of a small section of the Muslim elite only.
  • Muslims had expressed serious concern that a “first past the post” electoral system, like that of Britain, would leave them permanently subject to Hindu majority rule. The Act of 1909 stipulated, as demanded by the Muslim leadership
    1. that Indian Muslims be allotted reserved seats in the Municipal and District Boards, in the Provincial Councils and in the Imperial Legislature;
    2. that the number of reserved seats be in excess of their relative population (25 percent of the Indian population); and,
    3. that only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats (‘separate electorates’).
  • Congress considered separate electorate to be undemocratic and hindering the development of a shared Hindu-Muslim Indian national feeling.
  • Besides, system of election was too indirect and it gave the impression of infiltration of legislators through a number of sieves.
  • And, while parliamentary forms were introduced, no responsibility was conceded, which sometimes led to thoughtless and irresponsible criticism of the Government. Only some members like Gokhale put to constructive use the opportunity to debate in the councils by demanding universal primary education, attacking repressive policies and drawing attention to the plight of indentured labour and Indian workers in South Africa.
  • The reforms of 1909 gave to the people of the country a shadow rather than substance. The people had demanded self-government but what they were given was ‘benevolent despotism’.

The Act of 1909 was important for the following reasons:

  • It effectively allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time, though previously some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils.
  • The introduction of the electoral principle laid the groundwork for a parliamentary system even though this was contrary to the intent of Morley.


  • In line with the government policy contained in Montagu’s statement (August 1917), the Government announced further constitutional reforms in July 1918, known as Montagu- Chelmsford or Montford Reforms.
  • The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms were reforms introduced by the British Government in India to introduce self-governing institutions gradually to India. The reforms take their name from Edwin Samuel Montagu, the Secretary of State for India during the latter parts of World War I and Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India between 1916 and 1921.
  • The reforms were outlined in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report prepared in 1918 and formed the basis of the Government of India Act 1919.
  • Edwin Montagu became Secretary of State for India in June 1917 after Austen Chamberlain resigned. He put before the British Cabinet a proposed statement containing a phrase that he intended to work towards “the gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government.” Lord Curzon thought that this phrase gave too great an emphasis on working towards self-government and suggested an alternative phrase that the Government would work towards “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 Cabinet approved the statement with Curzon’s phrase incorporated in place of Montagu’s original phrase.

The main features of the Montford Reforms:

(1) Provincial Government—Introduction of Dyarchy:

(a) Executive:

  1. Dyarchy, i.e., rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers—was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head in the province.
  2. Subjects were divided into two lists: “reserved” which included subjects such as law and order, finance, land revenue, irrigation, etc., and “transferred” subjects such as education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, etc.
  3. The “reserved” subjects were to be administered by the governor through his executive council of bureaucrats, and the “transferred” subjects were to be administered by ministers nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.
  4. The ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and had to resign if a no-confidence motion was passed against them by the legislature, while the executive councilors were not to be responsible to the legislature.
  5. In case of failure of constitutional machinery in the province the governor could take over the administration of “transferred” subjects also.
  6. The secretary of state and the governor-general could interfere in respect of “reserved” subjects while in respect of the “transferred” subjects; the scope for their interference was restricted.

(b) Legislature:

  1. Provincial Legislative Councils were further expanded—70% of the members were to be elected.
  2. The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.
  3. Women were also given the right to vote.
  4. The Legislative Councils could initiate legislation but the governor’s assent was required. The governor could veto bills and issue ordinances.
  5. The Legislative Councils could reject the budget but the governor could restore it, if necessary.
  6. The legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.

(2) Central Government—Still Without Responsible Government:

(a) Executive:

  1. The governor-general was to be the chief executive authority.
  2. There were to be two lists for administration– central and provincial.
  3. In the viceroy’s executive council of 8, three were to be Indians.
  4. The governor-general retained full control over the “reserved” subjects in the provinces.
  5. The governor-general could restore cuts in grants, certify bills rejected by the Central Legislature,summon, prorogue, dissolve the Chambers, and issue ordinances.

(b) Legislature:

  1. A bicameral arrangement was introduced. The lower house or Central Legislative Assembly would consist of 144 members (41 nominated and 103 elected—52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, 20 Special) and the upper house or Council of State would have 60 members (26 nominated and 34 elected—20 General, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans and 1 Sikh).
  2. The Council of State had tenure of 5 years and had only male members, while the Central Legislative Assembly had tenure of 3 years.
  3. The legislators could ask questions and supplementaries pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget, but 75% of the budget was still not votable.
  4. Some Indians found their way into important committees including finance.
    • The secretary of state would control affairs relating to Government of India
    • In 1921 another change recommended by the report was carried out when elected local councils were set up in rural areas, and during the 1920s urban municipal corporations were made more democratic and “Indianized.

(3) Review:

  • The Montagu-Chelmsford report stated that there should be a review after 10 years.
  • Sir John Simon headed the committee (Simon Commission) responsible for the review which recommended further constitutional change.
  • Three round table conferences were held in London in 1930, 1931 and 1932 with representation of the major interests. Gandhi attended the 1931 round table after negotiations with the British Government. The major disagreement between Congress and the British was separate electorates for each community which Congress opposed but which were retained in Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award.
  • A new Government of India Act 1935 was passed continuing the move towards self-government first made in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report.


  1. Franchise was very limited.
  2. At the centre, the legislature had no control over the governor-general and his executive council.
  3. Division of subjects was not satisfactory at the centre.
  4. Allocation of seats for Central Legislature to provinces was based on ‘importance’ of provinces for instance, Punjab’s military importance and Bombay’s commercial importance.
  5. At the level of provinces, division of subjects and parallel administration of two parts i.e. Dyarchy was irrational and hence unworkable.
  6. The provincial ministers had no control over finances and over the bureaucrats, leading to constant friction between the two. Ministers were often not consulted on important matters too; in fact, they could be overruled by the governor on any matter that the latter considered special.
  7. On the home government (in Britain) front, the Government of India Act, 1919 made an important change the secretary of state was henceforth to be paid out of the British exchequer.
  8. While, on the one hand, the Government dangled the carrot of constitutional reforms, on the other hand, it decided to arm itself with extraordinary powers to suppress any discordant voices against the reforms.In March 1919, it passed the Rowlatt Act even though every single Indian member of the Central Legislative Council opposed it. This Act authorised the Government to imprison any person without trial and conviction in a court of law, thus enabling the Government to suspend the right of habeas corpus which had been the foundation of civil liberties in Britain.

Reception in India:

  • The Congress met in a special session in August 1918 at Bombay under Hasan Imam’s presidency and declared the reforms to be “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” and demanded effective self-government instead.
  • The 1919 reforms did not satisfy political demands in India. The British repressed opposition, and restrictions on the press and on movement were re-enacted in the Rowlatt Acts introduced in 1919. These measures were rammed through the Legislative Council with the unanimous opposition of the Indian members. Several members of the council including Jinnah resigned in protest. These measures were widely seen throughout India of the betrayal of strong support given by the population for the British war effort.
  • Gandhi launched a nationwide protest against the Rowlatt Acts with the strongest level of protest in the Punjab. An apparently unwitting example of violation of rules against the gathering of people led to the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919. This tragedy galvanised such political leaders as Nehru and Gandhi and the masses who followed them to press for further action.Montagu ordered an inquiry into the events at Amritsar by Lord Hunter. The Hunter Inquiry recommended that General Dyer, who commanded the troops, be dismissed, leading to Dyer’s sacking. Many British citizens supported Dyer, whom they considered had not received fair treatment from the Hunter Inquiry.


  • The Government of India Act 1935 was originally passed in August 1935 and was the longest British Act of Parliament ever enacted by that time. The Government of Burma Act 1935 was also included in it.

Background to the Act:

  • Indians had increasingly been demanding a greater role in the government of their country since the late 19th century. The Indian contribution to the British war effort during the First World War meant that even the more conservative elements in the British political establishment felt the necessity of constitutional change, resulting in the Government of India Act 1919. That Act introduced a novel system of government known as provincial “dyarchy”.
  • After the release and publication of Simon Commission Report when the new Labour Government succeeded in office, it declared that the Report was not final and in order to resolve the constitutional deadlock, the matter would finally considered after consulting representatives of all the Indian communities. This would be done at a Round Table Conference in London.
  • After holding three sessions of Round Table Conference in 1930, 1931 and 1932 respectively, their recommendations were embodied in a White Paper published in 1933, which was considered by a Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament chaired by Lord Linlithgow. (However, division between Congress and Muslim representatives proved to be a major factor in preventing agreement as to much of the important detail of how federation would work in practice. So, the new Conservative-dominated National Government in London decided to go ahead with drafting its own proposals “the white paper“.)
  • The government also constituted a committee of 20 representatives from British India and 7 from Indian States including 5 Muslims. The committee went in session from April 1933 to December 1934 for deliberation and submitted its report to Parliament in the end of 1934. The Parliament debated the report and passed a bill in February 1935, which got royal assent on July 24th 1935, and it was enforced on April 1, 1937 with the name of Government of India Act 1935.
  • Although the Government of India Act 1935 was intended to go some way towards meeting Indian demands, both the detail of the bill and the lack of Indian involvement in drafting its contents meant that the Act met with a lukewarm response at best in India, while still proving too radical for a significant element in Britain.

Provisions of the Act:

The Government of India Act 1935 contained 32 Sections 14 Parts and 10 Schedules and consisted of 2 Major Parts. The Act introduced federal systemin the centre.

Provincial Part of the Act:-Introduction of Provincial Autonomy:

  • The provincial part of the Act basically followed the recommendations of the Simon Commission.
  • In the provinces Diarchy was abolished. There was no Reserve Subjects and no Executive Council in the provinces. The Council of Ministers was to administer all the provincial subjects except in certain matters like law and orders etc. for which the government had special responsibilities.
  • The ministers were chosen from among the elected members of the provincial legislature and were collectively responsible to it.
  • The British-appointed provincial governors (who were responsible to the British Government via the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India) were to accept the recommendations of the ministers unless, in their view, they negatively affected his areas of statutory “special responsibilities” such as the prevention of any grave menace to the peace or tranquility of a province, the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of minorities, rights of civil servants etc.
  • In the event of political breakdown, the governor, under the supervision of the Viceroy, could take over total control of the provincial government. This, in fact, allowed the governors a more untrammeled control than any British official had enjoyed in the history of the Raj. After the resignation of the congress provincial ministries in 1939, the governors did directly rule the ex-Congress provinces throughout the war.
  • It was generally recognized, that the provincial part of the Act, conferred a great deal of power and patronage on provincial politicians as long as both British officials and Indian politicians played by the rules. However, the paternalistic threat of the intervention by the British governor rankled.

Federal Part of the Act:-All India Federation:

  • The India Act 1935 proposed to set up All Indian Federation comprising of the British Indian Provinces and Princely States. The constituent units of the Federation were 11 Governor’s provinces, 6 Chief Commissioner’s provinces and all those states that agreed to joint it. The States were absolutely free to join or not to join the proposed Federation.
  • At the time of joining the Federation the ruler of the state was to execute an Instrument of Accession in favour of the Crown. On acceptance of that Instrument, the state was become a unit of the Federation. The ruler was however authorized to extend the functions of the federal authority in respect of his state by executing another instrument in its internal affairs.
  • The act proposed that federation of India could come into existence only if as many princely states were entitled to one half of the states seats in the upper house of the federal legislature.
  • The terms offered to the Princes included:
    • Each Prince would select his state’s representative in the Federal Legislature. There would be no pressure for Princes to democratize their administrations or allow elections for state representatives in the Federal Legislature.
    • The Princes would enjoy heavy weightage. The Princely States represented about a quarter of the population of India and produced well under a quarter of its wealth.
  • Unlike the provincial portion of the Act, the Federal portion was to go into effect only when half the States by weight agreed to federate. This never happened due to opposition from rulers of the princely states and the establishment of the Federation was indefinitely postponed after the outbreak of the Second World War. The remaining parts of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the act were also held.

Division of Federal Subjects:

  • The scheme of federation and the provincial autonomy necessitated proper division of subjects between the centre and the provinces.
  • The division under 1919 Act was revised and the 1935 Act contained three lists i.e. (1)Federal, (2)Provincial(3) Concurrent Legislative Lists.

Introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre:

  • The India Act 1935 introduced Dyarchy at the centre. The Federal Subjects were divided into two categories, the Reserved and the Transferred.The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor-General on the advice of executive councilors, while transferred subjects were to be administered on the advice of the ministers.
  • The Reserved included defence, ecclesiastical affairs, external affairs and administration of Tribal Areas. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of executive councilors not exceeding three in number.
  • The rest of the subjects were Transferred ones. These were to be administered by the Governor General with the help of a Council of Ministers, the number of which was not to exceed 10.  The Governor General by his special powers and responsibilities could dominate the ministers.
  • The British Government, in the person of the Secretary of State for India, through the Governor-General of India(Viceroy) , would continue to control India’s financial obligations, defence, foreign affairs and the British Indian Army and would make the key appointments to the Reserve Bank of India and Railway Board.
  • The Act stipulated that no finance bill could be placed in the Central Legislature without the consent of the Governor General. The funding for the British responsibilities and foreign obligations (e.g. loan repayments, pensions), at least 80 percent of the federal expenditures, would be non-votable and be taken off the top before any claims could be considered for social or economic development programs.
  • The Viceroy, under the supervision of the Secretary of State for India, was provided with overriding and certifying powers that could, theoretically, have allowed him to rule autocratically.

Protection of Minorities:

  • A very significant provision was the safeguards and protective armours for the minorities. It was argued that the minorities needed protection from the dominance of the majority community. But the so-called provisions in the Act relating to safeguards were merely a trick to empower the Governor Generaland the Governors to override the ministers and the legislators.

Bicameral Legislature:

  • The proposed federal legislature was bicameral body consisting of the Council of States (Upper House) and the Federal Assembly (Lower House).
  • The strength of the Upper House(Council of States) was 260 out of which 104 nominated by the rulers were to represent the Indian States. 6 by the Governor General and 150 were to be elected.(Out of 260 members 156 were to represent the provinces and 104 to the native Indian 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
  • The lower House was to consist of 375 members, out of which 250 were to be the representatives of the British India and 125 of the Indian States. The members from the British India were to be indirectly elected who were composed of the members of the Lower Houses of the Provincial Legislatures but were to be nominated by the rulers in case of the Indian States. Its life was 5 years unless dissolved earlier by the Governor General.
  • 6 out of 11 provinces were given bicameral system of legislature. The Act not only enlarged the size of legislature, it also extended the franchise i.e. the number of voters was increased and special seats were allocated to women in legislature.
  • Membership of the provincial assemblies was altered so as to include more elected Indian representatives, who were now able to form majorities and be appointed to form governments.

Establishment of a Federal Court, Federal Railway Authority and Reserve Bank:

  • The India Act 1935 also provided for the establishment of a Federal Court to adjudicate inter-states disputes and matters concerning the interpretation of the constitution.
  • It was however, not the final court of appeal. In certain cases the appeals could be made to the Privy Council in England.
  • 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
  • Reserve Bank of India was established.

Communal and Separate Electorate and Reservations:

  • The Act not only retained the separate electorate(of previous act of 1919) but also enlarged its scope. The Anglo-Indians and the Indo-Christians were also given separate electorate.
  • Women were granted reservation in 41 seats in provincial legislatures as well as limited reservations in central legislature. But women reservation was subdivided in religious lines.
  • The reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes was incorporated into the act,

Supremacy of the British Parliament:

  • The supremacy of the British Parliament remained intact under the government Act of India 1935. No Indian legislature whether federal or provincial was authorized to modify or amend the constitution. The British Parliament alone was given the authority to amend it.

Burma Separation from India:

  • Another important feature of the Act was that Burma was separated from India with effect from April 1937.
  • Aden was also transferred from the administrative control of the Government of India to that of the colonial offices. Thus Aden became a Crown colony.

Abolition of the Indian Council of the Secretary of State:

  • The Government of India Act 1935 abolished the Council of the Secretary of State for India,which was created in 1858. The Secretary of State was to have advisers on its place.
  • With the introduction of the provincial autonomy the control of the Secretary of State over Transferred Subjects was greatly diminished. His control, however, remained intact over the powers of Governor General and Governors.

Reorganisation of Provinces and Creation of Two New Provinces:

  • A partial reorganization of the provinces:
    • Sindh was separated from Bombay
    • Bihar and Orissa was split into separate provinces of Bihar and Orissa
  • Hence, the Act provided for the creation of two new provinces of Sindh and Orissa. The new provinces together with the NWFP formed the Governor provinces making 11 in all.

Analysis of the Act:

  • The basic conception of the act of 1935 was that the government of India was the government of the crown, conducted by authorities deriving functions directly from the crown, in so far as the crown did not itself retain executive functions. His conception, familiar in dominion constitutions, was absent in earlier Acts passed for India.
  • The experiment of provincial autonomy under the act of 1935, definitely served some useful purposes, thus we can say that the Government of India Act 1935 marks a point of no return in the history of constitutional development in India.

No preamble: the ambiguity of British commitment to dominion status:

  • While it had become uncommon for British Acts of Parliament to contain a preamble, the absence of one from the Government of India Act 1935 contrasts sharply with the 1919 Act, which set out the broad philosophy of that Act’s aims in relation to Indian political development.
  • The 1919 Act’s preamble quoted, and centered on, the statement of the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu (1917–1922) to the House of Commons on 20 August 1917, which had pledged: “…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.”
  • Indian demands were by now centering on British India achieving constitutional parity with the existing Dominions such as Canada and Australia, which would have meant complete autonomy within the British Commonwealth. A significant element in British political circles doubted that Indians were capable of running their country on this basis, and saw Dominion status as something that might, perhaps, be aimed for after a long period of gradual constitutional development.
  • This tension between and within Indian and British views resulted in the clumsy compromise of the 1935 Act having no preamble of its own, but keeping in place the 1919 Act’s preamble. This was seen in India as yet more mixed messages from the British, suggesting at best a lukewarm attitude towards satisfying Indian desires.

No “Bill of Rights / Fundamental Rights”:

  • In contrast with most modern constitutions, but in common with Commonwealth constitutional legislation of the time, the Act does not include a “bill of rights” or “fundamental rights” within the new system that it aimed to establis as the draft outline constitution in the Nehru Report included such a bill of rights.
  • However, in the case of the proposed Federation of India there was a further complication in incorporating such a set of rights, as the new entity would have included nominally sovereign (and generally autocratic) princely states.


  • The Act was not only extremely detailed, but it was riddled with ‘safeguards’ designed to enable the British Government to intervene whenever it saw the need in order to maintain British responsibilities and interests.
  • To achieve this, in the face of a gradually increasing Indianization of the institutions of the Government of India, the Act concentrated the decision for the use and the actual administration of the safeguards in the hands of the British-appointed Viceroy and provincial governors who were subject to the control of the Secretary of State for India.

Reality of Responsible Government Under the Act – Is the Cup Half-Full or Half-Empty?

  • A close reading of the Act reveals that the British Government equipped itself with the legal instruments to take back total control at any time they considered this to be desirable. However, doing so without good reason would totally sink their credibility with groups in India whose support the act was aimed at securing.
  • Contrasting view of Lord Lothian, in a talk lasting forty-five minutes, came straight out with his view on the Bill: “If you look at the constitution it looks as if all the powers are vested in the Governor-General and the Governor. But is not every power here vested in the King? Everything is done in the name of the King but does the King ever interfere? Once the power passes into the hands of the legislature, the Governor or the Governor-General is never going to interfere.”

False Equivalences:

  • Under the Act, British citizens resident in the UK and British companies registered in the UK must be treated on the same basis as Indian citizens and Indian registered companies unless UK law denies reciprocal treatment.
  • The unfairness of this arrangement is clear when one considers the dominant position of British capital in much of the Indian modern sector and the complete dominance, maintained through unfair commercial practices (Like: Insignificance of Indian capital in Britain and the non-existence of Indian involvement in shipping to or within the UK).
  • There are very detailed provisions requiring the Viceroy to intervene if, in his view, any India law or regulation is intended to, or will in fact, discriminate against UK resident British subjects, British registered companies and, particularly, British shipping interests.

British Political Needs vs. Indian Constitutional Needs – the Ongoing Dysfunction:

  • From the moment of the Montagu statement of 1917, it was vital that the reform process stay ahead of the curve if the British were to hold the strategic initiative. However, imperialist sentiment, and a lack of realism, in British political circles made this impossible. Thus the grudging conditional concessions of power in the Acts of 1919 and 1935 caused more resentment and signally failed to win the Raj the backing of influential groups in India which it desperately needed.
  • There is evidence that Montagu would have backed something of this sort but his cabinet colleagues would not have considered it. Considering the balance of power in the Conservative party at the time, the passing of a Bill more liberal than that which was enacted in 1935 is inconceivable.’

Relationship to a Dominion Constitution:

  • In 1947, a relatively few amendments in the Act made it the functioning interim constitutions of India and Pakistan.

Objectives of the British Government:

  • The federal part of the Act was designed to meet the aims of the Conservative Party. Over the very long term, the Conservative leadership expected the Act to lead to a nominally dominion status India, conservative in outlook, dominated by an alliance of Hindu princes and right-wing Hindus which would be well disposed to place itself under the guidance and protection of the United Kingdom.
  • The Act aimed to:
  1. Win the support of moderate nationalists since its formal aim was to lead eventually to a Dominion of India which, as defined under the Statute of Westminster 1931 virtually equalled independence;
  2. Retain British control of the Indian Army, Indian finances, and India’s foreign relations for another generation;
  3. Win Muslim support by conceding most of Jinnah’s Fourteen Points;
  4. Ensuring that the Congress could never rule alone or gain enough seats to bring down the government This was done by over-representing the Princes, by giving every possible minority the right to separately vote for candidates belonging to their respective communities (separate electorate), and by making the executive theoretically, but not practically, removable by the legislature.
  5. By giving Indian politicians a great deal of power at the provincial level, while denying them responsibility at the Centre, it was hoped that Congress, the only national party, would disintegrate into a series of provincial fiefdoms. But, the congress High Command was able to control the provincial ministries and to force their resignation in 1939. The Act showed the strength and cohesion of Congress and probably strengthened it.
  6. Convince the Princes to join the Federation by giving the Princes conditions for entry never likely to be equaled. It was expected that enough would join to allow the establishment of the Federation.The Federation, as planned in the Act, was not viable and would have rapidly broken down with the British left to pick up the pieces without any viable alternative.

Why Princes did not join Federation:

  • It was hoped hat the Princes would see that their best hope for a future would lie in rapidly joining and becoming a united block without which no group could hope, mathematically, to wield power. However, the princes did not join, and thus exercising the veto provided by the Act prevented the Federation from coming into existence.
  • Among the reasons for the Princes staying out were the following:
  1. They did not have the foresight to realize that this was their only chance for a future.
  2. They were not a cohesive group and probably realized that they would never act as one.
  3. Each Prince seemed consumed by the desire to gain the best deal for himself were his state to join the Federation: the most money, the most autonomy.
  4. Congress had begun, and would continue, agitating for democratic reforms within the Princely States. Since the one common concern of the 600 or so Princes was their desire to continue to rule their states without interference, this was indeed a mortal threat. It was on the cards that this would lead eventually to more democratic state regimes and the election of states’ representatives in the Federal Legislature. In all likelihood, these representatives would be largely Congressmen. Had the Federation been established, the election of states’ representatives in the Federal Legislature would amount to a Congress coup from the inside. Thus, contrary to their official position that the British would look favorably on the democratization of the Princely States, their plan required that the States remain autocratic. This reflects a deep contradiction on British views of India and its future.

Indian Reaction to the Proposed Federation:

  • So little was offered that all significant groups in British India rejected and denounced the proposed Federation. A major contributing factor was the continuing distrust of British intentions for which there was considerable basis in fact.
  • No significant group in India accepted the Federal portion of the Act. After all, there are five aspects of every Government worth the name: (a) The right of external and internal defence and all measures for that purpose; (b) The right to control our external relations; (c) The right to control our currency and exchange; (d) The right to control our fiscal policy; (e) the day-to-day administration of the land.”
  • But under the Act, external affairs, defence, currency and exchange were all under Governor General effectively. Reserve Bank Bill just passed has a further reservation in the Constitution that no legislation may be undertaken with a view to substantially alter the provisions of that Act except with the consent of the Governor-General…. there is no real power conferred in the Centre.
  • However, the Liberals, and even elements in the Congress were tepidly willing to give it a go. Linlithgow asked Sapru whether he thought there was a satisfactory alternative to the scheme of the 1935 Act. Sapru replied that they should stand fast on the Act and the federal plan embodied in it.
  • Birla said that It was not ideal but at this stage it was the only thing.He thought that Congress was moving towards acceptance of Federation. He said that Gandhi was not over-worried by the reservation of defence and external affairs to the centre, but was concentrating on the method of choosing the States’ representatives. Birla wanted the Viceroy to help Gandhi by persuading a number of Princes to move towards democratic election of representatives.

The Working of the Act:

  • The British government sent out Lord Linlithgow as the new viceroy with the remit of bringing the Act into effect. Linlithgow was intelligent, extremely hard working, honest, serious and determined to make a success out of the Act. However, he was also unimaginative, stolid, legalistic and found it very difficult to “get on terms” with people outside his immediate circle.
  • In 1937, after the holding of provincial elections, Provincial Autonomy commenced. From that point until the declaration of war in 1939, Linlithgow tirelessly tried to get enough of the Princes to accede to launch the Federation. In this he received only the weakest backing from the Home Government and in the end the Princes rejected the Federation en masse.
  • In September 1939, Linlithgow simply declared that India was at war with Germany. Though Linlithgow’s behaviour was constitutionally correct it was also offensive to much of Indian opinion that the Viceroy had not consulted the elected representatives of the Indian people before taking such a momentous decision. This led directly to the resignation of the Congress provincial ministries.
  • From 1939, Linlithgow concentrated on supporting the war effort.
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