The Indian Councils Act of 1861, enacted during the British Raj, was a legislative response to the demands for representation and governance in India. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 holds a pivotal place in India’s colonial history, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of governance on the subcontinent. This blog explores the historical context, key provisions, and the act’s influence on shaping India’s political landscape.
Historical Context of the Indian Councils Act 1861
To have a comprehensive understanding of the implications of the Indian Councils Act 1861, it’s crucial to delve into the circumstances that led to its formulation and its significance in Colonial India.
The act had a significant role in establishing a legislative framework, introducing significant changes that would shape the administrative structure of colonial India.
- The Indian Councils Act 1861, legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, transformed India’s executive council into a cabinet functioning under the portfolio system.
- The cabinet consisted of six “ordinary members,” each overseeing a distinct department in Calcutta’s government, including home, revenue, military, law, finance, and, after 1874, public works.
- The military Commander-in-Chief participated in the council as an extraordinary member, and the Executive Council saw an expansion with the addition of a fifth member.
- Under the Indian Councils Act 1861, the Viceroy had the authority to overrule the council on affairs if deemed necessary, as exemplified in 1879 during Lord Lytton’s tenure.
- In emergencies when the Legislative Council was not in session, the Viceroy could issue ordinances lasting six months.
- Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advocated for Indian nationals’ inclusion in the administration, citing the lack of representation in the Legislative Council as a major cause behind the revolt.
- The Secretary of State for India, Sir Charles Wood, considered the Act a significant experiment, acknowledging the evident need for change in India’s governance.
- The Indian Councils Act 1861 restored the legislative powers of Bombay and Madras Presidencies, which were revoked by the Charter Act of 1833.
- While the legislative council at Calcutta gained extensive authority to pass laws for British India, councils at Bombay and Madras could make laws only for their respective presidencies, focusing on “Peace and good Government.”
- The Governor General gained the power to create new provinces for legislative purposes and appoint Lieutenant Governors for those provinces.
- However, from India’s perspective, the act did little to enhance the influence of Indians in the legislative council, limiting their role to advice with no provision for financial discussions.
The Indian Councils Act 1861 – Reasons For Enactment
- The Indian Councils Act of 1861 was enacted to address the shortcomings in governance reforms introduced by the Government of India Act of 1858.
- While the 1858 Act made important changes in governance from England, it failed to address issues within the Indian government system.
- Following the 1857 Mutiny, there was a growing realization in England that excluding Indians from active participation in administration would be impractical.
- The 1833 Charter Act centralized the legislative process but had only one representative in each of the four provinces.
- The Charter Act failed to pass legislation tailored to the diverse needs of the population, proving inadequate for effective governance.
- The Governor General in Council struggled with legislative duties due to cumbersome procedures, causing delays in the enactment of necessary measures.
- The Indian Councils Act of 1861 aimed to rectify these deficiencies and create a more inclusive and effective system of governance in India.
Provisions of The Indian Councils Act 1861
- The Indian Councils Act of 1861 initiated a trend of decentralization by restoring legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras presidencies.
- This act marked a reversal of centralizing trends that began with the Regulating Act of 1773 and culminated with the Charter Act of 1833.
- The policy of legislative devolution under this act eventually led to the granting of almost complete internal autonomy to the provinces in 1937.
- A significant aspect was the inclusion of Indians in the law-making process, paving the way for representative institutions.
- The provision allowed the Viceroy to nominate some Indian members to his extended council, with three Indians included in the 1862 Legislative Council.
- Approval from the Governor-General was required for bills related to public revenue, debt, military, religion, or foreign affairs.
- The Viceroy had the authority to overrule the council, especially during emergencies, and issue ordinances without council approval, valid for six months.
- Legislative councils for Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province, and Punjab were established under this act.
- The act empowered the Viceroy to make rules for efficient business transactions in the council and recognized the Portfolio System, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859.
- It granted the Viceroy the authority to issue ordinances during emergencies without the consent of the Legislative Council, valid for six months.
Significance of The Indian Councils Act 1861
- The significance of the Indian Councils Act 1861 extends as a pivotal moment in India’s constitutional and political evolution.
- The act brought about a transformation in the structure of the Governor General’s council, impacting both executive and legislative functions.
- A noteworthy aspect of its significance lies in initiating a new era for representative institutions by actively involving Indians in the legislative process.
Limitations of The Indian Councils Act 1861
- The Legislative Council played a restricted role, primarily serving as an advisory body with no authority in financial decision-making.
- Despite the election of Indians, there were no formal provisions mandating the inclusion of Indian representatives.
- The act permitted the delegation of legislative powers to the presidents of Bombay and Madras, enabling the allocation of administrative positions.
- The Governor-General wielded absolute power, consolidating decision-making authority.
The Indian Councils Act 1861 stands as a crucial milestone in India’s constitutional and political journey. It brought about a reconfiguration of the Governor General’s council, impacting both executive and legislative functions. Notably, the Act marked a significant departure by involving Indians in the legislative process, setting the stage for a renewed era of representative institutions. Additionally, it laid the groundwork for the establishment of legislative councils in Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province, and Punjab. By understanding the minute points outlined here APSC aspirants can build a strong foundation to tackle this topic in the APSC exam.