Journey of Indian Constitutional System: Pre-Independence Developments I
With the fall of Nawab of Bengal in 1757, the British Empire got established in India. Till 1762, there existed the double government of the company and the Nawabs. The servants of the company exploited the natives and took over their fields and property. The arrival of Warren Hastings as the new Governor of Bengal and insolvency of the company in same year provided an opportunity to the British Government to bring the Company under parliamentary control. It resulted in the passing of the Regulating Act of 1773. And various enactments followed one after another till 1853, which are as follows:
- Regulating Act of 1773: It was the first attempt made by the British Government to regulate the affairs of the company rule in India. The reason behind it was that the company irrespective of the Charter provided to it to do trade only, acquired territory and became a ruling authority. It was presumed that the Company did that all on behalf of the Crown, therefore, the administration was controlled by the Crown.
Lord North, on 18th May 1773 presented a Bill in the Parliament which later became the Regulating Act of 1773. The main Provisions were:
- Before the Act, a shareholder having the stock of £500 or more became a member of Court of Proprietors. The act increased the value to £1000 for better organization and accountability.
- The Board of Directors which was elected every year for no fixed terms was now to be elected by the Court of Proprietors every 4 years, the limit of the Board was fixed to 24, 6 retiring every year.
- The Governor of Bengal became The Governor-General of Bengal, superior to the Governors of other provinces. He was to be assisted by a Council of 4 English members. The Governor got the casting vote and the decisions were to be taken by majority vote. Warren Hastings was appointed as the first Governor-General and Richard Barwell, General Clavering, Phillip Francis and Colonel Monson were four Councillors. The Governor-General and Council i.e. Supreme Council was authorized to make rules, regulations, and ordinances for good governance.
- A Supreme Court at Fort William, Calcutta (now Kolkata) was established with Lord Chief Justice and three judges. Sir Elijah Impey was appointed as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It had jurisdiction over British subjects and Company’s servants.
- Private trade and accepting of presents were prohibited for the persons holding any civil or military office.
The Act, for the first time, tried to centralize the administration of the whole territory of India. The Governor-General was made answerable to the Directors. The drawbacks (mainly related to the Supreme Court) of the Act was removed by the Act of Settlement, 1781 also known as Amending Act of 1781.
- Pitt’s India Act of 1784: To ratify the defects to the previous Act, Mr. Fox introduced a Bill (known as Fox’s East India Bill), which firstly moved by Henry Dundas, a member of the opposition, in the Parliament in 1783. Though succeeded by a majority of 208 to 102 in the House of Commons, it was defeated in the House of Lord. Therefore, another Bill called Pitt’s India Bill was passed. Its main provisions were:
- The Act made a clear difference between the commercial and political function of the company. Court of Directors were assigned to manage the commercial affairs while a new authority named Board of Control, consisting six members, appointed by the King, was set up for political affairs. The Board (also known as Board of Commissioners) consisted the Secretary of State, the Chancellor of Exchequer and four members of Privy Council, was given enormous powers to superintend, direct and control all acts relating to civil and military issues and to collect revenues.
- Governor-General-in-Council was to superintend, direct and control the administration of presidencies.
- The Governor General’s Executive Council was reduced to three members and Commander-in-Chief was to be one of them.
- The Act directed the company to lower down its expenditure by means of retrenchment. The servants were required to give a declaration on oath of their property they had brought from India.
The Pitt’s India Act of 1784, though having defects, was the first effective substitution to Parliamentary control over the Company through Board of Controls. The amendment to this Act was made by the Act of 1786. The amendment provided veto power to Governor-General over his Council when Lord Cornwallis made the demand. The offices of the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief was unified in the same person by the amendment.
- Charter Act of 1793: The special veto power provided to Cornwallis was extended to all future Governor-General and Governor of Presidencies. Power to appoint a Vice-President (from the civilian members of his council), to act on his behalf during his absence, was given to Governor-General. The first named Commissioner of the Board was to be the President of Board of Control. The members were to be paid salaries in future out of the Indian revenues and not of the State exchequer.
- Charter Act of 1813: With the view of territorial expansionism, the Act provided the Company’s Government to make laws for natives. The Act ended the Company’s monopoly over Indian market and it was made open for all British merchants. License to them was to be provided by the Directors. The powers of the Board was enlarged. Tax imposition and punishment was made the subject of local government. An amount of 1,00,000 was set apart for religious and educational learning of Indians. This Act was like a nail in the coffin for the Company’s monopoly.
- Charter Act of 1833: The Charter of 1813 was to be reviewed after 20 years, so the Act of 1833 was passed. It further allowed the Company (for 20 years) for territorial expansion. The company was deprived of his all commercial privileges. The Governor-General became Governor-General of India. A new member known as the Law member (to participate in the deliberations of the Council only for legislative purposes) was added to the Council who was not the servant of Company. Macaulay was appointed as the first Law member. Most significantly, The Act provided for the appointment of the Law Commission for India.
- Charter Act of 1853: Like the previous instance, the Act of 1833 was to be reviewed after 20 years. Punjab and Sind were annexed by the Company. In the ambiance of frustration among Indians, Act of 1853 was passed. The Act reduced the strength the Court of Directors from 24 to 18 out of which six members were to be appointed by the Crown. Provisions for competitive examination for administrative services were provided. The Act created a separate legislative machinery, it enlarged the Council of Governor-General by adding six members. It now became a body of 12 members. The Governor-General-in-Council could veto any Bill passed by the Legislative Council. Separate Governor-General was appointed for Bengal to reduce the burden. Thus, it was the first instance when legislation as a special function of the government was considered.
The Outbreak of 1857, referred as the First War of Independence shocked British authorities. The revolt was suppressed, British authority again got control over Delhi on 20th September 1857. Here, a new development in the Political System of India was waiting and it all started with the Queen’s Proclamation on 1st November 1958.
to be continued…