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Indian Polity

Study Material > Polity
  • Various features of the Indian Constitution and polity have their roots in the British rule. There are certain events in the British rule that laid down the legal Framework for the organisation and functioning of Government and administration in British India. These events have greatly influenced our constitution and polity. They are divided into:
    1. Company rule (1773-1858)
    2. Crown rule (1858-1947)

 Company rule (1773-1858)

  1. Regulating Act of 1773
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. The latter found it necessary to regulate the activities of the company in India and for this, the regulating act of 1773 was passed.
    4. This was the first direct interference made by the British government in the affairs of India.
    5. Its purpose was to take a step towards removing the political power from the hands of a trading company.
    6. Provisions of the Act
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. Supreme Court was also set up in Calcutta at Fort Williams with Elijah Impey as its Chief Justice in 1774.
      5. 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’.
  2. Pitt's India Act of 1784
    1. It was introduced to remove the drawbacks of the Regulating Act and was named after the British Prime Minister William Pitt.
    2. Provisions of the Act
      1. It distinguished between the commercial and political functions of the company.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. The Board of control consisted of six commissioners including two Cabinet Ministers, to be appointed by the British Parliament.
      5. 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.
      6. Thus, the act was significant for two reasons:-
        1. The company's territories in India were for the first time called the ‘British possessions in India.
        2. The British Government was given the supreme control over company’s affairs and its administration in India.
  3. Charter Act of 1813
    1. This act renewed the company's charter for a further 20 years. It however deprived the company of its monopoly of trade with India. Also it subjected the three councils of the Governors to greater control of Parliament by requiring them to place all their regulations before the British Parliament.
  4. Charter Act of 1833

    1. This Act was final step towards centralisation in British India.

    2. Provisions of the Act

      1. 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. Lord William Bentick was the first Governor General of India.
      2. 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.
      3. The laws made under the previous acts were called as Regulations while laws made under this Act we are called as Acts.
      4. 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’.
      5. 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.
      6. The executive Council of the Governor General was enlarged  by the addition of the 4th member (Law member) for Legislative purpose.
      7. A law commissioner was constituted with the purpose of consolidating, codifying and Improving Indian laws.
      8. Lord Macaulay was the first law member and head of the law commission.
  5. Charter Act of 1853
    1. 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.
    2. Provisions of the Act
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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.
      5. 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.

The Crown Rule (1858-1947)

  1. Government of India Act of 1858
    1. 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.
    2. Provisions of the Act
      1. 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.
      2. 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 ended. It was replaced by the Secretary of State for India, assisted by a Council of 15 members out of this 15 members 8 were to be appointed by the Crown and seven by the Court of Directors.
      3. The secretary of state was a member of the British cabinet and was responsible ultimately to the British Parliament.
      4. India was for the purpose of administration, classified to British India and Princely States the Princely States were to show allegiance to the Crown. The powers of the British Crown were to be exercised by the secretary of state for India.
      5. The Governor-General received the title of Viceroy. Lord Canning was the first Viceroy of India
  2. Indian Councils Act of 1861, 1892 and 1909
    1. After the great revolt of 1857, the British Government felt the necessity of seeking the cooperation of the Indians in the administration of their country. In pursuance of this policy of association, three acts were enacted by the British Parliament in 1861, 1892 and 1909. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 is an important landmark in the constitutional and political history of India. The most significant feature of this Act was the association of Indians with the legislation work.
    2. Provisions of the Indian Councils Act 1861.
      1. It introduced first time the representative institutions in India.
      2. It provided that the Governor General’s Executive Council should have some Indians as the non-official members while transacting the legislative businesses. However, the non-official members appointed were traders, zamindars and British loyalists.
      3. It restored the legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras Presidencies, thus reversed the centralising tendency that started from the Regulating Act of 1773 and reached its climax under the Charter Act of 1833.
      4. It empowered the Viceroy to make rules and orders for the more convenient trans-action of business in the council. It also gave recognition to the ‘portfolio’ system, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859.
      5. It empowered the Viceroy to issue ordinances, without the concurrence of the legislative council, during an emergency. The life of such an ordinance was six months.
  3. Indian Councils Act of 1892  
    1. Provisions of the Act
      1. The act provided for the first time, the establishment of an elected Legislative Council at the provinces. The members were to be elected by a municipality, merchant bodies universities etc.
      2. Official members nominated by the Governor were in majority in councils.
      3. A legislative Council at the centre was to be constituted by members elected by the provincial councils. However, they had no right to vote and raise questions in councils.
  4. Government of India Act of 1909
    1. This Act is also known as Morley-Minto Reforms (Lord Morley was the then Secretary of State for India and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India).
    2. Provisions of the Act
      1. It considerably increased the size of the legislative councils, both Central and provincial.
      2. It retained official majority in the Central Legislative Council but in provinces non-official members would be in majority.
      3. It enlarged the deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels.
      4. It provided (for the first time) for the association of Indians with the executive Councils of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was appointed as the law member.
      5. It introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of ‘separate electorate’. Under this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Thus, the Act ‘legalised communalism’ and Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal Electorate.
      6. It also provided for the separate representation of presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities and zamindars.
  5. Government of India Act of 1919
    1. The Act of 1919 embodied the reforms recommended in the report of the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montague, and the viceroy Lord Chelmsford.
    2. It relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects. The central and provincial legislatures were authorised to make laws on their respective list of subjects. However, the structure of government continued to be centralised and unitary.
    3. It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts—transferred and reserved. The transferred subjects were to be administered by the governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative Council. The reserved subjects, on the other hand, were to be administered by the governor and his executive council without being responsible to the legislative Council. This dual scheme of governance was known as ‘dyarchy’. However, this experiment was largely unsuccessful.
    4. It introduced, for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Thus, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House (Council of State) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). The majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election.
    5. It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
    6. The act also provided for a high commissioner who resided in London, representing India in Great Britain.
    7. It provided for the establishment of a public service commission. Hence, a Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.
    8. It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.
    9. It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to inquire into and report on its working after ten years of its coming into force.
  6. Government of India Act of 1935
    1. It provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units.
    2. The Act divided the powers between the Centre and units in terms of three lists—Federal List, Provincial List and the Concurrent List.
    3. The federal list for the centre consisted of 59 items, the provincial list for the provinces consisted of 54 items and the concurrent list for both consisted of 36 items.
    4. Residuary powers were vested with the Viceroy. However, the federation never came into being as the princely states did not join it.
    5. It abolished dyarchy in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place.
    6. It provided for the adoption of dyarchy at the Centre.
    7. It introduced bicameralism in six out of eleven provinces. These six provinces were Assam, Bengal, Bombay, Bihar Madras and the United province.
  7. The cabinet mission plan
    1. In 1946, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee formulated a cabinet mission to India to discuss and finalize plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership as well as provide India with Independence under Dominion status in the Commonwealth of the Nation.
    2. The mission discussed the framework of the constitution and laid down in some detail the procedure to be followed by the constitution drafting body.
    3. Elections for the 296 seats assigned to the British Indian provinces were completed by August 1946. The Constituent Assembly first met and began work on 9 December 1946.
  8. Indian Independence Act of 1947
    1. The Indian Independence Act which came into force on 18 July 1947 divided British Indian territory into two new states India and Pakistan under the Commonwealth of nations until there constitutions came into effect. The Constituent assembly was divided into two separate States.
    2. Lord Mountbatten became the first Governor General of Dominion India. Latter, the constituent assembly elected C.Rajagopalachari as the Governor General of Independent India .
    3. When the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January, 1950, it repealed the Indian Independence Act. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a Sovereign, Democratic and Republic.
    4. Dr Rajendra Prasad became the first president of India.

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