Historical Background of Indian Polity

Historical Background of Indian Polity

THE COMPANY RULE (1773–1833)

Regulating Act of 1773

This act is of great constitutional importance as (a) it was the first step taken by the British Government to control and regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India; (b) it recognised, for the first time, the political and administrative functions of the Company; and (c) it laid the foundations of central administration in India.

Features of the Act

1. It designated the Governor of Bengal as the ‘Governor-General of Bengal’ and created an Executive Council of four members to assist him. The first such Governor-General was Lord Warren Hastings.

2. It made the governors of Bombay and Madras presidencies subordinate to the governorgeneral of Bengal, unlike earlier, when the three presidencies were independent of one another.

3. It provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court at Calcutta (1774) comprising one chief justice and three other judges.

4. It prohibited the servants of the Company from engaging in any private trade or accepting presents or bribes from the ‘natives’.

5. It strengthened the control of the British Government over the Company by requiring the Court of Directors (governing body of the Company) to report on its revenue, civil, and military affairs in India.

Pitt’s India Act of 1784

In a bid to rectify the defects of the Regulating Act of 1773, the British Parliament passed the Amending Act of 1781, also known as the Act of Settlement. The next important act was the Pitt’s India Act2 of 1784.

Features of the Act

1. It distinguished between the commercial and political functions of the Company.

2. It allowed the Court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs but created a new body called Board of Control to manage the political affairs. Thus, it established a system of double government.

3. It empowered the Board of Control to supervise and direct all operations of the civil and military government or revenues of the British possessions in India.

Thus, the act was significant for two reasons: first, the Company’s territories in India were for the first time called the ‘British possessions in India’; and second, the British Government was given the supreme control over Company’s affairs and its administration in India.

Charter Act of 1833

This Act was the final step towards centralisation in British India.

Features of the Act

1. It made the Governor-General of Bengal as the Governor-General of India and vested in him all civil and military powers. Thus, the act created, for the first time, a Government of India having authority over the entire territorial area possessed by the British in India. Lord William Bentick was the first governor-general of India.

2. It deprived the governor of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers. The GovernorGeneral of India was given exclusive legislative powers for the entire British India. The laws made under the previous acts were called as Regulations while laws made under this act were called as Acts.

3. It ended the activities of the East India Company as a commercial body, which became a purely administrative body. It provided that the company’s territories in India were held by it
‘in trust for His Majesty, His heirs and successors’.

4. The Charter Act of 1833 attempted to introduce a system of open competition for selection of civil servants, and stated that the Indians should not be debarred from holding any place, office and employment under the Company. However, this provision was negated after opposition from the Court of Directors.

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