The history of the Constitutional development in India can be traced back to the Regulating Act of 1773, which for the first time made the provision for the post of Governor – General in India.
Since then a number of constitutional experiments were introduced aiming at streamlining the Indian Administration.
However, the year 1858 serves as watershed when the Indian Administration came under the direct rule of the British Crown and the centralization of the administration was at its pinnacle.
Thus the period of British constitutional development experiment in India can be divided into two phases:
- Constitutional experiments during the rule of the East India Company (1773-1857)
- Constitutional experiments under the British Crown (1857-1947).
Constitutional Experiments During the Rule of The East India Company (1773-1857)
Regulating Act, 1773
- Subjected the Company’s actions to the supervision of the British Govt.
- End of Dual government.
- Governor of Bengal to be the Governor-General of British territories of India.
- Establishment of Supreme Court in Calcutta.
- The servants of the Company were forbidden to engage in private trade, accept presents or bribes, etc.
Pitts Act of 1784
- The commercial and political activities of the Company were now separated. Board of Control of six members (including two cabinet ministers) set-up to guide and supervise the affairs of the Company in India.
- Three members will be there in Governor-General’s Executive Council.
- Secret Committee of three Directors was to look into political and military affairs. [Governor General and the council were forbidden to declare war and make treaties without the sanction of secret committee].
- Madras and Bombay Presidencies were subordinated to the Governor-General-in-Council of Bengal in all matters.
- This act gave the British Government a measure of control over the Company’s affairs. In fact, the Company became a subordinate department of the State.
Act of 1786
Governor General given the power to over-ride the council and was made Commander-in-Chief also.
Charter Act of 1793
- Company given monopoly of trade for 20 more years.
- Expenses and salaries of the Board of Control to be charged on Indian revenue.
- The Governor General and the Governors could now over-ride the decisions of their respective Councils.
- All laws were to be translated in Indian languages.
- It laid the foundation of Govt. by written laws, interpreted by courts.
Charter Act of 1813
Company deprived of its trade monopoly in India except in tea and trade with China.
This made the Company more of an administrative body.
All Englishmen could trade with India subject to few restrictions.
A sum of 1 lakh earmarked annually for education of Indians.
Further, Christian missionaries were also permitted to come to India and preach their religion.
Charter Act of 1833
End of Company’s monopoly even in tea and trade with China. Company was asked to close its commercial business at the earliest.
All restrictions on European immigration into India and acquisition of land and property in India by them were removed, legalizing European colonization of India.
Governor General of Bengal to be Governor General of India; all powers, administrative and financial, were centralized in the hands of the Governor-General – in – Council. (1st Governor General of India – Lord William Bentinck).
President of Board of Control became the minister for Indian affairs. A law member (without power to vote) was added to the Executive Council of the Governor General.
Macaulay was the first Law member. This increased the Council’s strength to four. With it began the Indian Legislature. A law commission was constituted for codification of laws. The Act threw open to all, irrespective of religion, place of birth, descent and colour, services under the Company.
Charter Act of 1853
- The Act renewed the powers of the Company and allowed it to retain the possession of Indian territories in trust for the British Crown but not for any specified period.
- The number of members of the Court of Directors was reduced from 24 to 18 of which 6 were to be nominated by the Crown.
- The Law member was made a full member of the Governor General’s Executive Council
- Legislation was treated for the first time as separate from executive functions.
- Questions could be asked and the policy of the Executive Council could be discussed, though the Executive Council could veto a bill of the Legislative Council.
- Recruitment to Civil Services was based on open annual competition examination (excluding Indians).
Constitutional Experiments Under the British Crown (1857-1947)