Constitutional Developments Under British Notes



  • During the period from 1765-72 the Company had the authority but no responsibility
  • This resulted in:
  • Rampant corruption among servants of the Company.
  • Excessive revenue collection and oppression of peasantry.
  • The Company’s bankruptcy, while the servants were flourishing.
  • Response of British Government: To bring some order into the business, the British government decided to regulate the Company with a gradual increase in laws.


  • Changes were made in the Constitution of the Court of Directors of the Company.
  • It was required that it should submit to the Government all communications about civil and military affairs received from Bengal and revenues of India.
  • The status of Governor of Bengal was raised to Governor General.
  • The Governor General in Council was given the power to superintend and control the presidencies of Madras and Bombay in matters of war and peace.
  • Warren Hastings was made the first Governor-General of Bengal
  • The Governor General in turn was under the direct control of Court of Directors
  • The Act also provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court of Justice at Calcutta to give justice to Europeans, their employees and citizens of Calcutta.
  • In 1781, the Act was amended and the Governor-General, the Council and the servants of the government were exempted from the jurisdiction if they did anything while discharging their duties.


  • Court of Directors and Board of Control Established:
  • A Board of Control was formed to exercise control over the Company’s civil, military and revenue affairs.
  • It consisted of: The chancellor of exchequer, A secretary of state, Four members of the Privy Council
  • The important political matters were reserved to a secret committee of three directors (Court of Directors) in direct touch with the British government.
  • The Act established the principle that the government of India be placed under the Governor General and a Council of three, so that if only one member of the Council supported him, he could have his way.
  • Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief: The council of governor- general was reduced to three members including the commander-in- chief.
  • The Governor General was given a casting vote.
  • The Governor General and council were made subordinate to British Government.
  • They were forbidden to declare war and enter into any treaty without the sanction of the directors or the secret committee.

PITT’S INDIA ACT, 1784 (Positives)

  • It helped in uniting India by giving supreme power to Governor General over the Governors of Presidencies.
  • The possessions of the Company in India came under the supremacy of the British Parliament.
  • The Act laid the foundation of a centralized administration-a process which reached its climax towards the close of thenineteenth century.
  • Cornwallis (1786), when appointed Governor General, insisted on having the power to override his council in important matters such as safety, peace and interests of the Crown in India.
  • The Act of 1786 gave him the powers he asked for.
  • The offices of the Governor General and the Commander-in-Chief were to be united in the same person.
  • Declaratory Act of 1788 gave full powers and supremacy to the Board of control.
  • This was a step towards transfer of powers of the Company to the Crown.


  • The Charter was to be renewed in 1793.
  • Henry Dundas, President of the Board of Control, was in favor of renewing the Charter and allowing the Company to retain its possession of territories for the next 20 years.
  • Cornwallis also supported this stand.
  • Governor General’s control over the Presidencies was strengthened.
  • He was allowed /to issue orders and directions to any Government and Presidency of lndia during his absence from Bengal without previous consultation with his council.
  • He could exercise all executive power vested in the Central Government.
  • The Act of 1793 laid the foundation of government by written laws and regulations in British lndia in place of the personal rule of the past rulers.
  • The interpretation of regulations and written laws was to be done by the Courts.
  • It laid down that the members of the Board of Control and their staff were to be paid out of the Indian revenues (it continued up till 1919).

CHARTER ACT OF 1813 (Background)

  • The Home Government had specifically directed the Government of India not to follow the policy of conquests.
  • But aggressive policies in India resulted in acquisition of territory.
  • Lord Wellesley and Marquis of Hastings followed an imperialistic policy.
  • The Company’s power had spread to the whole of India except Punjab, Nepal and Sind.
  • Company requested for financial help from the Parliament due to overspending in wars and setback in trade.
  • There was also a lot of agitation against continuance of commercial monopoly by the East lndia Company.
  • Independent merchants demanded ending of the same.
  • They wanted a share in the trade with India.
  • The teachings of Adam Smith and his school were by then dominating the politics of Britain.
  • The Act of 1813 renewed the Company’s Charter for 20 years, but it asserted the sovereignty of the British Crown over the Indian territories held by the Company, Company was allowed to have territorial possessions for another 20 years.
  • The Company was deprived of its monopoly of trade with India.
  • It was allowed to continue with its monopoly of trade with China for 20 years.
  • The lndian trade was thrown open to all British merchants.


  • When it was time for the renewal of the Charter in 1833 there was widespread agitation for abolition of the Company and take over of administration by the Crown.
  • A Parliamentary enquiry was held.
  • The monopoly of tea trade with China was abolished.
  • The Company was to have only political functions.
  • The Board of Control was invested with authority to superintend, direct and control the affairs of the Company relating to the Government or revenues of the Indian territory
  • Governor General of Bengal became the Governor General of India. (Lord William Bentick)
  • The Governor General in Council was to control, superintend and direct the civil and military affairs of the Company.
  • Bombay, Bengal, Madras and other regions were subjected to complete control of the Governor General in Council.
  • Central Government was to have complete control over raising of revenues and expenditure.
  • The act provided for the mitigation of slavery existing in India at that time.
  • The British Parliament abolished slavery in Britain and all its possessions in 1833.
  • The Act added one more member to the Executive council of the Governor General.
  • The Law Member, whose work was fully legislative.
  • He had no vote in the Council and he was to attend meetings, on invitation.
  • But he practically became a regular member of the council.
  • Lord Macaulay, the Law member, influenced the educational policy of the government for a number of years.
  • The Act provided for the codification of laws in India.
  • There were several type of laws before 1833.
  • There were the English Acts, Presidency Regulations, Hindu Law, Muslim Law, Customary Law etc.
  • By this Act the Governor General was empowered to appoint the Law Commission to study, collect and codify various rules and regulations prevalent in India.
  • The lndian Penal Code and Codes of Civil and Criminal Law were enacted by the efforts of lndian Law Commission.
Section 87 of the Act declared, "that no native or natural born subject of the crown resident in lndia should be by reason only of his religion, place of birth, descent, colour or any of them be disqualified for any place in the company’s service.“


  • The Act provided for the appointment of a separate governor for the Bengal Presidency.
  • It maintained that the governor of Bengal should be different from the Governor-General who was to head administration of the whole of India.
  • The Law Member was made a full member of the Executive Council of the Governor General.
  • The Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Calcutta was to be the ex-officio member of the Council.
  • The Council in its legislative capacity was to consist of 12 members.
  • These included the Governor General, Commander-in-Chief, four members of his council and six - legislative members. .
  • Central Legislative Council was to consist of one representative each from the Provinces
  • The Court of Directors could create a new presidency or province.
  • This was because of the difficulties that were faced in administering the increasingly large Indian territories of Britain.
  • Since 1833 and 1853, two new provinces of Sind and Punjab were added
  • It could also appoint a Lieutenant Governor for these provinces.
  • This Act also led to the creation of Assam, Burma and the Central Provinces.
  • Indian Civil Services
  • All vacancies in India were to be filled in by competitive examinations.
  • Lord Macaulay was appointed the President of the Committee.
  • This act removed the right of patronage to appointments in civil service held by the Court of Directors.
  • The appointment was to be done only by open competition based on merit and was open to all.
  • The report recommended that only the ‘fittest’ be selected to the ICS.


  • Government of India Act of 1858 passed by British Parliament, brought an end to the rule of East India Company. The powers were transferred to the British Crown.
  • Governor-General of India was made the Viceroy of India.
  • The Secretary of State for India was given the powers and duties of the former Court of Directors.
  • He Controlled the Indian Administration through the Viceroy of India and not to make any further annexations.
  • The Secretary of State for India was assisted by the Council of India. This Council had 15 members. The Council was an advisory body.
  • Lord Canning was the 1st Viceroy of India.


  • Lord Canning, who was the Governor-General and Viceroy at the time, introduced the portfolio system. In this system, each member was assigned a portfolio of a particular department.
  • For legislative purposes, the Governor-General’s Council was enlarged.
  • Now, there were to be between 6 and 12 additional members (nominated by the Governor-General).
  • There were appointed for a period of 2 years.
  • Out of these, at least half of the additional members were to be non-official (British or Indian).
  • Their functions were confined to legislative measures.-
  • Lord Canning nominated three Indians to the Council in 1862 namely, the Raja of Benares, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao.
  • Any bill related to public revenue or debt, military, religion or foreign affairs could not be passed without the Governor-General’s assent.
  • The Viceroy had the power to overrule the council if necessary.
  • The Governor-General also had the power to promulgate ordinances without the council’s concurrence during emergencies.
  • The Secretary of State for India in Britain could also dissolve any act passed by the Governor-General’s Council.
  • This Act restored the legislative powers of the Governor-in-Councils of the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay (which was taken away by the Charter Act of 1833).
  • The legislative council of Calcutta had extensive power to pass laws for the whole of British India.
  • There was provision made for the formation of legislative councils in other provinces.
  • New provinces could also be created for legislative purposes and Lieutenant Governors be appointed for them.
  • Legislative councils were formed in other provinces in Bengal in 1862, North-West Frontier Province in 1886 and Punjab and Burma in 1897.


  • The act increased the number of additional or non-official members in the legislative councils
  • The members were given the right to ask questions on the budget (which was barred in the Indian Councils Act 1861) or matters of public interest but had to give notice of 6 days for it.
  • They could not ask supplementary questions.
  • The principle of representation was initiated through this act. The district boards, universities, municipalities, chambers of commerce and zamindars were authorised to recommend members to the provincial councils.
  • The legislative councils were empowered to make new laws and repeal old laws with the permission of the Governor-General.