Polity Titbits: Constitutional Developments under British/ British Administrative Measures


28th Apr 2021

In India, the British Government passed various laws and acts before the formulation of the constitution. The Regulating Act of 1773 was enacted as a first step to regulate the working of East India Company. However, the Indian Independence Act, 1947 finally ended the British rule in India and declared India as an independent and sovereign nation with effect from August 15, 1947.

The Regulating Act of 1773

  • The Regulating Act of 1773 was enacted as a first step to regulate the working of East India Company
  • The Gov of Bengal was made Gov General of Bengal. He was assisted by 4 people. This 4+1 becomes became Supreme Council of Bengal also known as the GG’s Exec Council.
  • A Supreme Court was established in Bengal comprising of a chief justice and three other judges

Pitts’s India Act, 1784

  • We see a shrinking of the Council from 4 members to 3 members. Hence 3+1 is the renewed GG’s Executive Council.
  • Board of control was established to control the civil, military and revenue affairs of the company
  • The Court of Proprietors was no more empowered to revoke or suspend the resolution of the directors approved by the Board of Control.

Charter Act of 1833

  • The Governor-General of Bengal was made the Governor-General of India. The first Governor-General of India was William Bentinck.
  • He was given legislative powers over entire India including the Governors of Bombay and Madras.
  • The company lost the status of a commercial body and was made purely an administrative body.
  • This Act. was the first law to distinguish between the executive and legislative powers of the Gov General.
  • A 4th member was introduced who could only discuss and vote only on the legislative matter.
  • Council of India = [(3+1) +  1(4th member also called the Law Member)]
  • The first such Law Member was Macaulay. This Council of India was, to a certain extent, the Legislature. Strength of the Executive remained 3+1 .

Charter Act of 1853

  • From here on, we see a gradual increase in the membership of the Council and further separation of powers.
  • Access to compete in civil services for Indians.
  • It brought out the separation in the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council.
  • The 4th member (Law Member)was included as a full-time Member in the GG’s Executive Council. His position was taken by 6 Members referred to as Legislative Councillors.
  • Council of India = [(4+1) + 6(Legislative Councillors) + 1 Commander-in-Chief]
  • 6 Councillors were,
    1. 1 Chief Judge of SC of Calcutta.
    2. 1 Judge of SC of Calcutta
    3. 4 members of the ICS

Government of India Act, 1858

  • India was to be governed by and in the name of the crown through Viceroy, who would be the representative of the crown in India.
  • The designation of Governor-General of India was changed to Viceroy. Thus, Governor-General Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India
  • Board of Control and Board of directors were abolished transferring all their powers to British Crown
  • A new office ‘secretary of state was created with a 15 member council of India to assist him. Indian Councils Act, 1861
  • The major focus of the act was on administration in India. It was the first step to associate Indians to legislation.
  • The act provided that the viceroy should nominate some Indians as non-official members in the legislative council.
  • The legislative powers of Madras and Bombay presidencies were restored.
    It provided for the establishment of legislative councils for Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and Punjab.
  • Viceroy was empowered to issue ordinances during an emergency without the concurrence of the legislative council.

Indian Councils Act of 1861

  • After 1861, the Council was called Imperial Legislative Council(ILC) or Indian Legislative Council(ILC). The Executive was further enhanced by 1 member.
  • The Viceroy now had the power to Nominate 6 – 12 Non-Official members in the Legislature who would be holding the office for 2 years.
  • ILC = [(5+1) + (Additional Members -> Minimum 6, Maximum 12)]
  • The composition of Additional Members was as follows:
    1. 50% Nominated Official Members
    2. 50% Nominated Non-Official Members
  • The Act thus sowed the seed for the future Legislative as an independent entity separate from the Executive Council.

Indian Councils Act of 1892 

  • Due to the excessive demand of the Congress, the Additional Members were increased. Additional Members -> Minimum 10, Maximum 12.
  • ILC = [(5+1) + (Additional Members -> Minimum 10, Maximum 16)]

The composition of Additional Members was as follows:

  • Nominated official members (those nominated by the Governor-General and were government officials)
  • 5 Nominated Non-Officials (nominated by the Governor-General but were not government officials)
  • 4 Nominated by the Provincial Legislative Councils of Bengal Presidency, Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency and North-Western Provinces.
  • 1 Nominated by the Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta.

Indian Councils Act of 1909: The Morley-Minto reforms

  • It introduced for the first time the method of election.
  • The additional members of the Governor-General Council were increased from 16 to a maximum of 60.
  • The composition of Additional Members was as follows:
    1. Nominated official members (those nominated by the Governor-General and were government officials)
    2. Nominated non-official members (nominated by the Governor-General but were not government officials)
    3. Elected Members (elected by different categories of Indian people)
  • It provided for the association of Indians in the executive council of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha joined the Viceroy’s executive council as a law member.
  • It introduced Separate Electorate for Muslims.

Indian Councils Act of 1919: The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms

  • Central Legislature thereafter called the Indian Legislature was reconstituted on the enlarged and more representative character.
  • The act set up bicameral legislatures at the centre consisting of two houses- the Council of the States (Upper House) and the Central Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
  • It consisted of the Council of State consisted of 60 members of whom 34 members were elected and the Legislative Assembly consisted of about 145 members, of whom about 104 were elected and the rest nominated.
  • Of the nominated members, about 26 were officials.  The powers of both the Chambers of the Indian Legislature were identical except that the power to vote supply was granted only to the Legislative Assembly.
  • The central and provincial subjects were demarcated and separated.
  • The Provincial subjects were further divided into Transferred Subjects and Reserved Subjects, the legislative council had no say in the latter. This was known as the system of Diarchy.
  • The principle of separate electorate was further extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
  • It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to report the working of the act after ten years

The Government of India Act 1935

  • It marked the next great stride in the evolution of the Legislatures.
  • The Federal Legislature was to consist of two Houses, the House of Assembly called the Federal  Assembly and the Council of States.
  • The Federal Assembly was to consist of 375 members, 250 to represent Provinces and 125 to represent the Indian States, nominated by the Rulers.
  • The representatives of the Provinces were to be elected not directly but indirectly by the Provincial Assemblies.
  • The term of the Assembly was fixed as five years.
  • The Council of State was to be a permanent body not subject to dissolution, but one-third of the members should retire every three years.
  • It was to consist of 260 members.  104 representatives of Indian States, six to be nominated by the Governor-General, 128 to be directly elected by territorial communal constituencies and 22 to be set apart for smaller minorities, women and depressed classes.
  • The two Houses had in general equal powers but demands for supply votes and financial Bills were to originate in the Assembly.
  • The principle of Separate Electorate was extended to depressed classes, women and workers.
  • Provided for the formation of Reserve bank of India

Indian Independence Act, 1947

  • The act formalized the Lord Mountbatten Plan regarding the independence of India on June 3, 1947.
  • The Act ended the British rule in India and declared India as an independent and sovereign nation with effect from August 15, 1947.
  • Provided for the partition of India into two dominions of India and Pakistan
  • The office of Viceroy was abolished and a Governor-General was to be appointed in each of the dominions
  • The Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions were to have powers to legislate for their respective territories.
  • Princely states were free to join any of the two dominions or to remain independent.

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