- The history of British rule in India can be traced back to 31st December 1600 - when the British Crown granted a group of merchants a monopoly over trade in the eastern waters. In 1765, the East India Company, which was earlier a commercial body, was granted the 'Diwani' (the right of collecting revenues) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Mughal emperor Shah Alam.
- The acquisition of the Diwani rights made the company to emerge out as the de facto ruler of this country. From 1765 to 1833 the company got engaged in the dual role of the trader and ruler. In 1833, it abandoned its commercial role.
Regulating Act of 1773
- The chaotic situation brought about by The misgovernment of Bengal forced the British Parliament to enquire into the affairs of the East India Company. This revealed gross malpractices of the senior officials of the company.
- The company was also facing a financial crisis at this time and had applied to the British government for a loan of one million pounds.
- The latter found it necessary to regulate the activities of the company in India and for this, the regulating act of 1773 was passed.
- This was the first direct interference made by the British government in the affairs of India.
- Its purpose was to take a step towards removing the political power from the hands of a trading company.
Provisions of the Act
- A Governor of Bengal became Governor-General of Bengal and Executive Council of Four members was created to assist him. The first such Governor General was Lord Warren Hastings.
- It subordinated the Governors of Bombay and Madras to the Governor-General of Bengal. This lead to concentration of powers under the Governor General and his subordinates resulting in rampant corruption and weakening of command structure at lower levels.
- Supreme Court consisting of Chief Justice and three puisne Judges to be established. All the public servants of the company were brought under its jurisdiction.
- Supreme Court was also set up in Calcutta at Fort Williams with Elijah Impey as its Chief Justice in 1774.
- The Act in order to control corruption prohibited the servants of the company, both Civil and military, from engaging in any private trade or accepting presents or bribes from the ‘natives’.
Pitt's India Act of 1784
- It was introduced to remove the drawbacks of the Regulating Act and was named after the British Prime Minister William Pitt.
Provisions of the Act
- It distinguished between the commercial and political functions of the company.
- It allowed the court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs but created a new body called Board of Control to manage the political affairs. Thus, it established a system of double government.
- It empowered the Board of Control to supervise and direct all operations of the Civil and military government or revenues of the British possessions in India.
- The Board of control consisted of six commissioners including two Cabinet Ministers, to be appointed by the British Parliament.
- The Company however, continued to have the monopoly of trade and the right to appoint and dismiss its own officials. This led to the introduction of dual system of government by the company and by a parliamentary board which lasted till 1857.
- Thus, the act was significant for two reasons:-
- The company's territories in India were for the first time called the ‘British possessions in India.
- The British Government was given the supreme control over company’s affairs and its administration in India.
Charter Act of 1793
- After this Act, the company got monopoly of trade with India, for another twenty years. The salaries of the members of the Board of Control and other functionaries of the Company were to be drawn the Indian Exchequer.
- The Governor General was given greater control over the Governors of Bombay and Madras. Stress was laid on the policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the native states.
Charter Act of 1813
- By 1813, when renewal of the company’s charter was due, there were elaborate discussions about the justification of the commercial privileges enjoyed by the Company.
- The extent of the Company’s territories in India had so much expanded that it was considered to be impossible for it to continue as both a commercial and a political functionary.
- Moreover, 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 Napolean which had closed the European ports to British trade.
- The Englishmen, therefore, demanded the termination of the commercial monopoly of the Company.
Provisions of the Act
- The company’s monopoly of trade with India was abolished, except the monopoly of trade with China and trade in tea. Subject to these restrictions the trade with India was permitted to all Englishmen.
- The constitutional position of the British territories in India was explicitly defined for the first time. In this context the company was allowed to retain the territories and revenues of India in trust for the crown.
- For the promotion of education in the British territories in India, the sum of rupees 1 lakh was sanctioned. This sum was to be spent annually.
Charter Act of 1833
- This Act was final step towards centralisation in British India.
Features of the Act
- The Act abolished the company’s monopoly of tea trade in India and of trade with China, thus concluding the process initiated by the Charter Act of 1813.
- It made the Governor General of Bengal as the Governor General of India and vested in him all civil and military powers. Thus the act created, for the first time, a Government of India having authority over the entire territorial area possessed by the British in India. Hence the administration of India was centralized.
- Lord William Bentick was the first Governor General of India.
- It deprived the governor of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers. The Governor General of India was given exclusive legislative powers for the entire British India. The laws made under the previous acts were called as Regulations while laws made under this Act we are called as Acts.
- It ended the activities of the East India Company as a commercial body, which became a purely administrative body. It provided that the company's territories in India we are held by it ‘in trust for his Majesty; His Heirs and successors’.
- It attempted to introduce a system of open competition as the basis for the recruitment of civil servants of the company. However, this provision was negated after opposition from the Court of Directors.
- The executive Council of the Governor General was enlarged by the addition of the 4th member (Law member) for Legislative purpose.
- A law commissioner was constituted with the purpose of consolidating, codifying and Improving Indian laws.
- Lord Macaulay was the first law member and head of the law commission.
- The Act also provided that the Government of India should take measures for improving the condition of slavery in India.
- In 1843, slavery was finally abolished in India.
Charter Act of 1853
- This was the last of the series of Charter Acts passed by the British Parliament between 1793 and 1853. It was a significant constitutional landmark.
Provisions of the Act
- It separated, for the first time, the legislative and executive functions of the Governor- General’s council. It provided for addition of six new members called legislative councillors to the council. In other words, it established a separate Governor-General’s legislative council which came to be known as the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. This legislative wing of the council functioned as a mini-Parliament, adopting the same procedures as the British Parliament. Thus, legislation, for the first time, was treated as a special function of the government, requiring special machinery and special process.
- It introduced an open competition system of selection and recruitment of civil servants. The covenanted civil service3 was thus thrown open to the Indians also. Accordingly, the Macaulay Committee (the Committee on the Indian Civil Service) was appointed in 1854.
- It extended the Company’s rule and allowed it to retain the possession of Indian territories on trust for the British Crown. But, it did not specify any particular period, unlike the previous Charters. This was a clear indication that the Company’s rule could be terminated at any time the Parliament liked.
- It introduced, for the first time, local representation in the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. Of the six new legislative members of the governor-general’s council, four members were appointed by the local (provincial) governments of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and the North-Western provinces.
- The working of the Council was to be on the lines of the British Parliament. Questions could be asked and the policy of Executive Council could be discussed, though the executive Council retained the power to Veto a bill of the Legislative Council.
Government of India Act of 1858
- This act was enacted in the wake of the Revolt of 1857. In August 1858 the British Parliament passed an act which put an end to the rule of the Company and the control of the British government in India was transferred to the British crown.
Provisions of the Act
- The act known as the Act for the Good Government of India, abolished the East India Company, and transferred the powers of government, territories and revenues to the British Crown. In other words, the rule of Company was replaced by the rule of the Crown in India.
- The Board of Control and the Court of Directors was abolished. Thus the system of “double government” introduction by Pitt's India Act of 1784, finally