Legislations in British India – Part 1

Robert Clive, often referred to as “Clive of India” amassed so much illegal wealth after the Battle of Plassey and Buxar that people back in England started to call him and his associates “nabobs”, anglicized version of Nawabs. When he returned back to England in 1769, people were astounded with the fortune he acquired. In 1771 he was charged of corruption, bribe and maladministration, in India, and trials and enquiry on his conduct in India was conducted. Though he was exonerated in 1773 after a vote, British parliament was wary of the kind of administration carried out by the company officials as the company was in dire financial straits. The company was important for British Parliament because of the investors of the company were the big shots of Britain. The buckled up and wanted to supervise the Company to make sure the company coffers filled again.

In this background they introduced “The Regulating Act of 1773” to regulate the activities of Company officials and overhaul the administration system.

Note: There is something we need to keep in mind, legislation is a process and one Act cannot solve all the problems at once. A new legislation is brought about to correct the previous one or to introduce new rules. This tip will set the tone for further reading;

Provisions of the Regulating Act

The act provided for the “Court of Directors” with strength of 24 members who were to be elected by “Court of Proprietors”, the Court of Directors (CoD) would hold office for four years. They were required to submit all the dispatches of communication in the British Parliament coming from India.

  • The act prohibited the company officials from taking bribe and doing private trade, which was also a bone of contention between the Nawab of Bengal and EIC. (Remember the allegations made on Robert Clive)
  • Governor of Bengal was made Governor General of Bengal; Bombay and Madras were made subordinate to Bengal. Warren Hastings became the first Governor General of Bengal.
  • A “Council of Four” was created to assist Governor General of Bengal in administrative decisions which included Commander in Chief as a default member.
  • A Supreme Court was established at Fort William Calcutta in 1774, and judges from Britain were sent to administer British legal system in India. The first judge being Elijah Impey

If you observe the above provisions, they are vague, the role of council was not defined, the jurisdiction of Supreme Court was not demarcated, and the laws to be applied to Indians were not mentioned. In a case of forgery the Ex-Diwan of Murshidabad, Nand Kumar was sentenced to death, which wasn’t allowed according to Indian law; it led to a huge public outburst. There was also constant quarrel between the Governor General of Bengal and his Council; the act enacted to regulate the company affairs was a failure, and therefore the next legislation was brought in to correct the mistakes of the previous legislation.

Pitt’s India Act

It was brought under the young Prime Minister of Britain, William Pitt and hence the act came to be called Pitt’s India Act.

Provisions of Pitt’s India Act

  1. A Board of Control with 6 members of whom two were from British Parliament and four from the Monarch’s Privy Council and was set up in Britain to manage the India affairs exclusively, through which the British Parliament could finally control the civil, military and revenue affairs in India. However Company still retained the monopoly over trade and enjoyed its rights to appoint and dismiss officials at its will. Thus, a system of Dual Government was established. Court of Directors for Commercial affairs, and Board of Directors for Political affairs.
  2. The Council size was reduced to three, and Governor General of Bengal was a crown appointee got the veto power to override the advice of the council.
  3. The members of the Governor General of Bengal’s executive council were to be appointed from the Indian Covenanted Services.

Additional reading:

1) The 6 members of Board of Control were

  • Finance minister of British Parliament (called the Chancellor of Exchequer)
  • Any cabinet minister.
  • Rest of the four members from Private council of the monarch.

2) ICS members were given the executive functions, and they were patronage of Court of Directors.

The Pitt’s India Act came to be the Constitution for India till 1858 and acted as the base, not many changes were made to the structure of government. The acts that followed after this were more or less concerned with the trading monopoly of the company and number of members in the Governor General’s executive council and strengthening the powers of Governor General.

Hence the nomenclature of the acts that followed was “Charter Acts”, Charter here meant – a permission or grant to trade.

There were four charter acts one after every 20 years in total.

Note: Look for the pattern in these charters.

 Provisions of “The Charter Act of 1793”

  1. This Charter extended the trading monopoly of the Company for 20 more years.
  2. Governor General, who had got the overriding powers on his executive council, now got overriding powers over Governors of other two presidencies.
  3. The Commander in Chief who was ipso facto (by default) member of executive council, wouldn’t be anymore. If wished could be appointed but not by default.
  4. The salaries of the Board of Control in Britain were to be paid by the revenues earned in India.
  5. The laws made in India were now to be translated to Indian languages.
  6. The EIC was empowered to grant licenses to Company officials or individuals to carry out trade. This was done to enable to send shipments of Opium to China.

  The Charter Act of 1813 :- The act expressly asserted the Crown’s sovereignty over British India.


  1. The trading monopoly extended for 20 more years with an exception of trade in tea and trade with China.
  2. Christian Missionaries were allowed to operate in India, subject to the approval of Court of Directors or Board of Control.
  3. Act also provided for 1,00,000 rupees per annum to be spent on education in India (more details about education, read article on Education in British India)

Link History of English Education in India

The Charter Act of 1833

This Act was also called the Government of India Act 1833, or Saint Helena Act 1833, and is of paramount importance, for, it brought about a number of changes.

Provisions of the act:

  1. The Governor General of Bengal was redesignated as the Governor General of India. And whatever legislative powers the Governors of Bombay and Madras were repealed and they were made total subordinates of the Governor General of India. William Bentinck became the first the Governor General of India.
  2. The legislative powers were now vested with Governor General’s Executive Council. A provision for new member called Law member was introduced, and when the Law member of council the same council would be called Legislative Council. The Law member would act as a legal advisor in making laws who later constituted Law Commission to codify all the laws for India. The first law member being Thomas Babington Macaulay.
  3. The Act also ended EIC as a commercial body and it solely became the administrative body.
  4. The Act also introduced a system of open exam for the selection of civil servants, but this was opposed by Court of Directors and they continued to hold the privilege to appoint the civil servants.  This proposal was enacted in 1853
  5. The Act also provided that, there shouldn’t be any discrimination in the services of the Company on the basis of religion, caste, gender, race, color etc. However this only remained on paper and never practiced.

Note : Government of India was supposed to take steps to improve the conditions of Slaves in India. In this regard 10 years later Indian Slavery Act or Act V of 1843 was passed and abolished slavery system and made it a penal offence.

The Charter Act of 1853

The Act provided for Company to retain its territorial positions but not for any definite period, unlike previous charters which extended for 20 years at once.

The membership of Court of Directors was reduced from 24 to 18 and out of which 6 nominations were to be made by British Crown’s Privy Council.

The number of members in Legislative Council was increased to 6 and Executive council to 4

Civil services were finally opened for Indians and an open competitive examination was held in London for the selection.


Evolution of Governor General’s Council.

Screen Shot 02-14-15 at 03.21 AM

Evolution of Charters to EIC

Screen Shot 02-14-15 at 03.22 AM



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