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Constitutional and legal history of India - all you need to know.

Since it is now very common for most law entrances to ask questions on legal GK and legal history, it will be a great idea to read up on the following subjects:

Development Under British East India Company


The Regulating Act for India, 1773


  • By 1773 the East India Company was in dire financial straits. The Company was important to Britain because it was a monopoly trading company in India and in the east and many influential people were shareholders. The East India Company owed money to both the Bank of England and the government; it had 15 million lbs of tea rotting in British warehouses and more en route from India.

  • Lord North decided to overhaul the management of the East India Company with the Regulating Act. This was the first step along the road to government control of India. The Act set up a system whereby it supervised (regulated) the work of the East India Company but did not take power for itself.

  • According to the act:

·        the East India Company had to appoint an official to be Governor-General of all the districts controlled by the Company (which in 1773 comprised Bengal, Oudh and the Carnatic)

·        The British government would appoint a council of four men to advise and control the Governor-General.

·        British judges were to be sent to India to administer the British legal system which was used there

  • Warren Hastings was the first Governor-General. He had worked for the East India Company for a long time and in 1772 was the Governor of Bengal. He had a great deal of experience in Indian affairs.


East India Company Act (Pitt's India Act) 1784

       After the Regulating Act of 1773 to regulate the affairs of the Company in India, the second important step taken by the British Parliament was the appointment of a Board of Control under Pitt's India Bill of 1784. It provided for a joint government of the Company (represented by the Directors), and the Crown (represented by the Board of Control).

       A Board of six members was constituted with two members of the British Cabinet and four of the Privy Council. One of whom was the President and who soon became, in effect, the minister for the affairs of the East India Company. The Board had all the powers and control over all the acts and operations which related to the civil, military and revenues of the Company.

       The Council was reduced to three members and the Governor-General was empowered to overrule the majority. The Governors of Bombay and Madras were also deprived of their independent powers. Calcutta was given greater powers in matters of war, revenue, and diplomacy, thus becoming in effect the capital of Company possessions in India.

       By a supplementary the Bill passed in 1786, Lord Cornwallis was appointed as the first Governor-General, and he then became the effective ruler of British India under the authority of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors. The constitution set up by the Pitt's India Act did not undergo any major changes during the existence of the Company's rule in India.


Charter Act, 1813


       The Charter Act of 1813 abolished the trading activities of the Company and henceforth became purely an administrative body under the Crown. Thereafter, with few exceptions, the Governor-General and the Council could make all the laws and regulations for people (Indians and British).

       The company`s commercial privileges were too much extended prior to the Charter Act of 1793. As a result the East India Company cease to functions properly as a dual body- commercial and political. Moreover with the introduction of the new concepts of laissez faire, Europeans demanded a share in the trades with India. The continental system introduced by Napoleon had closed the European ports to the British trade. Hence the English demanded to strengthen the trades in India. Dues to all these problems in the inland trades, the Englishmen demanded the termination of the commercial monopoly of the East India Company in India. Hence the contemporary circumstances made it necessary for the renewals of the Charters Act of 1793. 

       Though the commercial jurisdiction of the Company was curtailed, yet they were granted a dividend of 10-½ % out of the total revenues of India. The Act continued to the company for a further period of twenty years.

Charter Act, 1833


       The Charter Act, 1833 came into existence after massive socio-political changes in England. The Act gave another lease of life to the Company for 20 years to administer the Indian territories.

       This Charter acts centralized the administration in India. The Governor General of Bengal, according to the act was declared as the Governor General of India. All revenues were to be raised under the authority of the governor general in Council who had also to control the entire system of expenditure.

       The Charter Acts of 1833 emphasized the legislative centralization. The Government of Madras and Bombay were deprived of their powers of legislation. The state governments were only left with the powers of proposing the project of laws to the governor General in council.

       By the Act V 1843, slavery was abolished in India completely. The Acts of 1833 undoubtedly brought about important changes in the constitutions of India.

       Though the Charter Acts of 1833 introduced several schemes for the betterment of the administrative and judicial procedures in India, the Act did not have any far-reaching effect. 


Charter Act, 1853


       After twenty years of the Acts of 1833, the time approached for the renewal of the Company`s Charter. With the passage of time there was a growing demand that the double Governments of the company in England should be ended. It has also been declared that the Court of Directors and the Board of control only resulted in the unnecessary delay in the business transactions and led to undue expenditure.

       It had been ideated that the existing legislative system under the Charter Act of 1833 was completely inadequate. Moreover after the Acts of 1833 there were territorial and the political changes in India. Sind and Punjab had been annexed to the company`s territory. A number of Indian States except Pegu in Burma became victim of Dalhousie`s policy of annexation. Gradually there were the demands of the decentralization of power and for giving the Indian people the shares in the administration. It was under these circumstances that the British parliament decided to renew the charter of the company in the year 1853. The company in the preceding year appointed two Committees to look into the affairs of the company. On the basis of their reports the charters Act of 1853 was framed and passed. 

       The charter Acts of 1853 renewed the powers of the company and allowed it to retain possessions of Indian territories.

       However this Charter Act did not grant commercial privileges for the specific period of time. Rather it did not mention any time period. The charter Act of 1853 provided that the salaries of the members of the Boards of controls, its Secretary and other officers would be fixed by the British government but would be paid by the company. The number of the members of the court of directors was reduced from 24 to 18 out of which 6 were to be nominated by the Crown. By the Act of 1853, the Court of directors was disposes of their power of patronage and the high posts were made subjects to the competitive examination, s where no discriminations would be made on the basis of caste, creed and religion.

       The Court of directors was empowered to constitute a new Presidency. The court of Directors, by the Act also could alter the boundaries of the existing states and incorporate the newly acquired state. This provision was made uses to create a separate Lieutenant Governorship for Punjab in the years 1859. The Act also empowered the crown to appoint a Law commission in England to examine the reports and the drafts of the Indian law commission. 

       In India the separation of the executive and the legislative functions was carried a step further by the provision of the additional members for the purpose of legislation. The Law Member was made the full member of the governor General`s Executive council. This council while sitting in its legislative capacity was enlarged by the addition of the six members, namely the chief Justice and others judge of Calcutta supreme Court and four representative one each from Bengal, madras, Bombay and the north western provinces.

       The provincial representatives were to be the civil servants of the company. The governor General was empowered to appoint two more civil servants to the Council. It had been declared by the Act that discussion sins the Council became oral instead of writing. Bills were referred to the Select Committees instead to a single member and legislative business was conducted in public instead of the secret. 



Government Of India Act, 1935




       The Government of India Act 1935 was one of the most important events in the history of India.

       It was a result of several previous Governments of India Act and Round Table Conferences, the Government of India Act 1935 was finally introduced.

       There were several Governments of India Act before The Government of the India Act 1935 was introduced. 

a.               The Government of India Act 1858 was the first Act to be introduced. It was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. After the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the British government took over administrative powers from the British East India Company. The British East India Company had to transfer its function because of the provisions of the liquidation. As a result, India became a formal crown colony which meant the British Overseas Territory. 

b.               The Government of India Act 1909 is generally known as the Morley-Minto Reforms. The Act of 1909 was important because it allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils for the first time. It laid the groundwork for the parliamentary system.

c.                The Government of India Act 1919 incorporated the dual form of government, referred to as a dyarchy.

       After the genesis of Acts, Indian Round Table Conferences were held in 1930-1932. Through the three Round Table Conferences, British India and the Princely States could be integrated into the federated Dominion of India. However, Congress and the Muslims had different opinions on the structure of this federation.

       Lord Linlithgow was appointed as the new viceroy by the British government to bring the Act into effect.

Features of the Act


       The Government of India Act 1935 expanded the powers of the elected provincial and national legislatures and helped lay the groundwork for full independence.

       The Act continued and extended all the existing features of the Indian constitution.

       Popular representation which went back to 1892, dyarchy and ministerial responsibility, which dated from 1921, provincial autonomy, whose chequered history went back to the eighteenth century presidencies, communal representation, which first received overt recognition in 1909, and the safeguards devised in 1919, were all continued and in most cases extended. But in addition, certain new principles were introduced.

       Like this, there were several main features and changes of the Government of India Act 1935. 



Changes Introduced by the Act


a.    Changes in the Federation and Government 


  • Indian Federation was a double process that comprised previously subordinate provinces where the autonomy was applied and the separate princely states bound only by the consultative Chamber of Princes and by direct ties with the Crown. 

  • Before the Act, the federal central government was not in effect because not a sufficient number of rulers of states had signed to function in accordance with the Act of 1919. However, the new federal principle could exist independently and be enforced without their support. Provincial autonomy was the corollary of Indian Federation. Afterwards, the federal structure was completed by creating a federal court and a federal reserve bank. 

  • The Act which proposed a federal structure for Indian government which, in the event, never came into operation, although it was adopted as the basic constitutional structure of India and Pakistan following Partition.


b.    Changes in Legislation 


  • The Government of India Act 1935 also had features on its organization and structure of legislation. It had no preamble, which was included in the Government of India Act 1919. In the Government of India Act 1919, the preamble was important as it was a statement that policy and intentions were prefixed. However, there was no need for a preamble in the Act of 1935, as no new pronouncement of policy or intentions was required.

  •  There was no Bill of Rights in the Government of India Act 1935. Because the Federation would include autocratic Princely States, no meaningful Bill of Rights could be formulated. 

  • Furthermore, the Government of India Act 1935 was the longest bill among the Acts which were passed by the British Parliament because of lack of trust amongst the Indian political class.

  • The Government of India Act 1935 was closely related to a Dominion Constitution. After a few amendments were added, the Government of India Act 1935 could function as the constitutions of both India and Pakistan. 


c.    Changes in Other Aspects 


  • The provincial assemblies changed to include more elected Indian representatives, who in turn could lead majorities and form governments. But Governors tried to retain powers concerning the summoning of legislatures, assenting to bills and administering certain regions.

  • The Lothian Committee included about 35 million voters who were required only a small property qualification. Women also received the franchise which had the same terms as men. 

  • The safeguards of the Government of India Act 1935 were also changed. The safeguards and their special powers were continued to exist after the Act of 1935. "At the Centre the Governor-General" had the control of the reserved departments, the power of certifying legislation in the form of 'Governor-General's Acts', and the power to issue ordinances with the force of law for six months at a time. The safeguards were used to maintain the British government's interests and responsibilities.

  • According to the Act, British citizens in the United Kingdom and British companies registered in the United Kingdom must be treated on the same basis as Indian citizens and Indian registered companies. The unfairness of this arrangement was obvious from the fact that British capital took dominant position in much of the Indian modern sector. It also contained that trade with foreign countries must be administered by the Minister of Commerce. However, the Foreign Office or Department of External Affairs in the mainland of United Kingdom controlled all of the negotiations with foreign countries. 

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