The question is basic and deserves the knowledge of history of constitutional development in India.
Britishers policies were very exploitative before 1858 as India was ruled by EIC directly. So EIC’s exploitative policies made the law and order situation worse in historical times. Plundering of resources was at its peak by the officers of EIC.
Such exploitation gave birth to various uprisings and resulted into the transfer of regime to British crown directly. British crown tried to bring some balance by various laws to stabilize governance.
Mention the features of 1858 Act in order to show modifications from the earlier governance system which were extremely exploitative.
- The Government of India Act 1858 was largely confined to the improvement of the administrative machinery by which the Indian Government was to be supervised and controlled in England.
- Prior to the Act of 1858, India was ruled by the British East India Company (EIC), whose policies and actions were over exploitative which resulted into numerous small insurgencies like Santhal Revolts, Kisan Revolts and numerous other revolutions. All together these revolts out-busted in the form of Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 which revealed Indian’s resentment against Britishers. Also the corruption was rampant among the officers of EIC which was costing the crown badly.
Reforms towards Good Governance:
- However, with overgrowing resentment among Indians and the declining revenue of British crown compelled the British Crown to take the administration of India in their hand by enacting Government of India Act 1858 which provided that India was to be governed directly by the crown and in the name of the crown.
- This Act abolished all those acts which were over-exploitative and made India’s fate to be governed by the British Parliament directly hence, to be known as the Act of Good Governance.
- This Act abolished the Company rule, Court of Directors and Board of Control. This also abolished the dual government introduced by the Pitt’s India Act. The Principle of Doctrine of Lapse was withdrawn, liberty was given to Indian rulers subject to British suzerainty and it also opened some door for Indians in Government services.
- This Act established the control of British Parliament over Indian affairs by providing for Council of India of the Secretary of the state consisting of 15 members from which 7 to be elected by the court of directors and the rest of 8 to be appointed by the Crown. The members could ask questions regarding Indian affairs thus involving transparency. The British Parliament became questionable regarding any of India’s affairs which paved the way for some of the good reforms.
- The Governor General headed by the Secretary of State (Cabinet Minister in British Parliament) was to be heading India’s affair and made responsible to Secretary of state for India. Viceroy to be a direct representative of the British Crown in India. Thus, the direct rule from the British Parliament provided some of the services better in comparison to the East India Company’s rule. Hence the Act of 1858 is also termed as the Act of Good Governance.
- The growing resentment in England against the Company rule reached its climax with the mutiny of 1857. The mutiny was suppressed but it sent ripples of fear to London and convinced the British that administration of the India must be taken over by the Crown. The British prime Minister, Palmerstone introduced a Bill in 1858 in the parliament for the transfer of Government of India to the Crown. However, before this bill was to be passed, Palmerstone was forced to resign on another issue. Later, Lord Stanley introduced another bill which was originally titled as “An Act for the Better Government of India” and it was passed on August 2, 1858.
- Hence, the reformist policies brought through this Act (though lesser exploitative then the earlier policies) made it an Act of Good Governance.