Constitutional Experiment During the Rule of the East India Company-(1773-1857)

The origin and growth of Indian Constitution has its roots in Indian history during the British period. From 1773 onwards various acts were passed by the British Government. However, none of them satisfied Indian aspirations mainly because they were imposed by alien rulers.

The evolution of the Indian Constitution can be studied in two phases. They are the company rule between 1773 and 1858 and the crown rule between 1858 and 1947. During the first phase, the major constitutional experiment was incorporated in the following acts and regulations- 

This topic is important for IAS Exam from both prelims and mains perspectives.

Regulating Act, 1773 :

Its major provisions included the following- 

  • The first attempt by the British Parliament to regulate the affairs of the Company; 
  • Provided for centralisation of Administration of Company’s territories in India; 
  • Governor of Bengal became Governor-General for all British territories in India; 
  • Governor-General and Council of 4 members was appointed for Bengal; 
  • Court of Directors of 24 members was to be elected for 4 years, with one-fourth of members retiring every year; 
  • Bombay (Maharashtra) and Madras (Tamil Nadu) Presidency subordinated to Ben¬gal Presidency; 
  • Supreme Court to be set up at Calcutta; and 
  • Company’s Servants are forbidden from accepting bribes or doing private trade.

Aspirants can go through the list of Legislations in British India and download pdf summaries for revision.

Pitt’s India Act, 1784 :

Its major provisions included the following- 

  • Transferred the Indian affairs of the Company into the hands of the British Government; 
  • Court of Directors consisting of 24 members to look after commercial functions; 
  • Board of Control consisting of 6 Parliamentary Commissioners was constituted to control civil, military and revenue affairs of India; 
  • Court of Directors had to comply with the orders and directions of the Board; 
  • Strength of Governor-General’s Council reduced to 3; 
  • Control of Governor-General-in-Council on Bombay and Madras Presidency enlarged and made effective; and 
  • First effective substitution of Parliamentary Control over East India Company.

Charter Act, 1793 :

Its major provisions included the following- 

  • Company given monopoly of trade for 20 more years
  • Expenses and salaries of the Board of Control to be charged on Indian Revenue; and 
  • Governor-General could over-ride his Council.

Charter Act, 1813 :

Its major provisions included the following-

  • Company deprived of its trade monopoly in India except in tea and opium trade with China; 
  • All Englishmen could trade with India subject to certain restrictions; 
  • Rules and procedures made for use of Indian revenue; and 
  • A sum of Rs. 1 lakh earmarked annually for education.

UPSC aspirants can study the Historical Background of the Constitution of India in the linked article.

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Charter Act, 1833 :

Its major provisions included the following- 

  • End of Company’s trade monopoly even in tea and opium with China; 
  • The company was asked to close its business at the earliest; 
  • Governor-General of Bengal to be Governor-General of India; 
  • Govt. of Madras and Bombay deprived of legislative powers; 
  • A fourth member, Law Member, added to Council of Governor-General; 
  • Government Service was thrown open to the people of India; 
  • All laws made by Governor-General council henceforth to be known Acts and ‘not regulations; 
  • Provision made for the appointment of Law Commission for the codification of laws; and 
  • Slavery was to be abolished.

Charter Act, 1853 :

Its major provisions included the following- 

  • Expanded the life of the Company for an unspecified period; 
  • For the first time separate legislative machinery consisting of a 12-member Legislative Council was created; 
  • Law member was made a full member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General. Six additional members were added for legislative purposes; and 

Recruitment of Civil Services was based on an open annual competitive examination.

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