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Subjects /Indian Polity / Historical Development of Indian Constitution

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03 Jul 2020

The summary of the Constitutional Development during British Rule:

Regulating Act of 1773

Pitts India Act of 1784

Act of 1786

Charter Act of 1813

Charter Act of 1833

Charter Act of 1853

Revolt of 1857

Government of India Act of 1858

Indian Council Act of 1861

Indian Council Act of 1892

Morley Minto Reform Act of 1909

Montague – Chelmsford Act of 1919

Government of India Act of 1935

Indian Independence Act of 947

  • These Acts were passed by British Parliament
  • Before 1858, there was East India Company Rule and after that there was British Rule.

About East India Company

  • In 1600: British east India Company established in Britain.
  • In the company British Crown (The Queen and elites) have Lion’s Shares, and they wanted to trade with India.
  • At that time Jahangir was the ruler. (Mughal Rule).
  • Captain William Hawkins and Thomas Roe visited India, ultimately got Royal Farmaan and the company started trade with India.
  • Soon they realized that if they captured India, they would have great profits.
  • The epicenter of the company became Calcutta.
  • EIC realized that India is not a nation. There were many rulers fighting with each other and there were revolts even against the kings.
  • In order to capture India, the Company attacked Bengal – Battle of Plassey (1757) (There was a conspiracy against the Ruler Siraj-ud-daulla, he fled but was captured and killed by Miran (the son of Mir Jafar).
  • After the battle, Robert Clive became the Governor of Bengal.
  • Battle of Buxar, 1764
    • Indian rulers were defeated and most of India was captured by the Britishers. With this battle the rule of East India Company established in India.

To regulate the affairs of the Company, Regulating Act was passed by the British Parliament.

In this article, we will study about the various Acts passed during the British Rule. These Acts shaped the Constitution of India.

Regulating Act of 1773

Some of the important features of the Regulating Act of 1773 were:

  • The First Supreme court was established at Calcutta.
  • Governor of Bengal was made Governor General of Bengal.
    • Tenure of the post was fixed for 5 years.
    • Warren Hastings and Robert Clive were made Governors.
  • It was the beginning of Parliamentary control of the EIC.
  • Subordination of Madras and Bombay Presidencies to Bengal.
  • Governor of Madras and Governor of Bombay were brought under the Governor General of Bengal.
  • A 4 members council was set up to advice the Governor General.
  • Court of Director’s influence reduced:
    • 24 in numbers.
    • With 1/4th retiring every year.

Pitt’s India Act of 1784

  • William Pitt – was the British Prime Minister.
  • This act reiterated on the supremacy of Parliament over EIC.
  • This act established a Board of Council (BoC) to guide and supervise the affairs of the EIC.
    • Board of Council – 6 members.
    • Separate board of 3 members to advice British Crown.
  • Chairman of BoC was a British Cabinet Minister.
  • Strength of Governor General’s council was reduced from 4 to 3.
  • Governor’s councils were established in Madras and Bombay provinces.
  • Company’s territory in India was to be called ‘British Possessions in India’.
  • Madras and Bombay subordinated to Governor General of Bengal in matters of diplomacy, war and revenue.

Charter Act of 1786

This act did not bring substantial changes in the working of the East India Company. The main points of this act are:

  • Governor General was made – Commander in Chief.
    • He was given special powers relating to Peace and Defence.
    • He was made Commander in Chief of Armed Forces.
  • 20 years of extension for trading rights was given to EIC.

Charter Act of 1813

This act brought major changes in the working of the East India Company. After this act the monopoly of the EIC in trade was terminated.

  •  EIC was deprived of its trade monopoly in India (except Tea trade and trade with China).
  • Indian trade was thrown open to all the British subjects.
  • Missionaries were allowed to preach in India.
  • A sum of Rs. 1 Lakh annually was sanctioned for educational development in India.

Charter Act of 1833

This act was important as it laid the foundation of making of Constitution for India. Some of the important points of this Act are:

  • It created the post of Governor General of India.
  • Governor General of Bengal was designated as Governor General of India.
    • Wiiliam Bentick was the first Governor General of India.
  • The act provided for formation of Constitution of Law Commission.
  • Company’s monopoly of trade with India was completely abolished.
  • Fair and impartial treatment was done to Indians for selection in state services.
  • First faint beginning of Constitution making in this act.

Charter Act of 1853

This act was important from the point of you of All India Services. As, after this act any eligible Indian candidate could appear for the exam. Some important points of this Act are:

  • Indian Civil Services were made open to all.
  • Open annual competitive examination for civil services.
    • Macaulay Commission constituted to work out the details.
  • Legislative and Executive Councils were separated
  • The Court of Directors- members were decreased from 24 to 18; and 6 members to be appointed by the Crown.
  • To lighten work for Governor General, Administration of Bengal – Lieutenant Governor appointed in Bengal.

Revolt of 1857

It was not localized to Barrackpore or Meerut cantonment, rather it spreads throughout the country. Even though British called is a ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ it had shaken the British empire in India completely.

The revolt was crushed due to the following weaknesses:

  • Spontaneous Revolt
  • Leader less
  • Organisation less
  • Strategy less
  • Lack of resources

 V D Savarkar first called it ‘First War of Independence’ and said it is wrong to call it a ‘Sepoy Mutiny’. It is called so, to minimize its impact.

Government of India Act 1858

The impact of revolt resulted in passing the Act of 1858. This act was the perpetual end of EIC rule over India. The causes for passing this act were as follows:

  • Revolt of 1857.
  • Report of Governor General to the British Government that until and unless there is metamorphic change in India, British monopoly cannot be there in India for long.
  • The decision of British Parliament to take over the control of India into its own hands from EIC.
  • Realisation of agitated mood of Indian people and their rising hostility against the Britishers in India.

Provisions of the Act of 1858

  • British crown assumed sovereignty of India from EIC.
  • Creation of the post of Secretary of State for India, Viceroy of India as well as a 15 members Indian council to assist Secretary of State for India.
  • Viceroy – to be crown’s representative.
  • The 1st Viceroy – Lord Canning.
  • An executive council was also created to assist the Governor General. The council was compound exclusively of the people of England.
  • Secretary of State was made responsible to the British Parliament who governed India through Governor General assisted by Executive council (having high officials of the Government).
  • Governor General was responsible to the Secretary of State to India.
  • Territory was divided into provinces headed by Governor or Lieutenant Governor.






Secretary of State

(15 members of Indian Council)



(Governor General & Executive Council)


Governors/Lieutenant Governors

  • The Viceroy was responsible to Crown and Governor General (in day to day affairs) was responsible to the Secretary of State.
  • Secretary of State was in London; Governor General was highest functionary n India.
  • Secretary of State was responsible to the British Parliament.

Shortcomings/Criticism of Act of 1858

  1. Administration of the country was not only unitary but rigidly Centralised.
  2. Provincial governments were merely the agents of the Government of India and functioned under the Superintendence, direction and control of Governor General.
  3. There was no separation of powers (all powers – Civil, Military, Executive and Legislative) were rested in Governor General -in-council.
  4. There was absolute control of secretary of state over Indian Administration.
  5. Entire administrative machinery was bureaucratic, unconnected to public opinion.

Impact of the Act of 1858

  • The act failed to placate Indians rather it was felt that more and more systematic aggression could be started by the Britishers against India to take revenge of 1857 revolt.
  • No representation of Indians in Executive Council beamed the message that British rule is anti-Indian and supportive of British interest only. Therefore, a gap between ruler and ruled widened.

Indian Council Act of 1861

Causes for enactment of Act of 1861

  1. Queen’s proclamation in 1858 in Allahabad promised to respect the honor and dignity of native princes and to assure the people equal protection of law and respect for their traditions and customs.
  2. In order to legitimise its rule in India and to give some representation to Indians in Executive Council this Act was passed.
  3. Parliament felt necessity for some reform in Legislative Council in order to perpetuate British Control over India.

Provisions of the Act of 1861

  • Through this act the Governor General’s council was expanded by including minimum 6 and maximum 12 additional members.
  • These non-official members were added only for legislative purposes.
  • There additional members were to be nominated by the Governor General for a period of 2 years.
  • Similar provisions were made for provincial Legislative Councils.
  • The membership of each Provincial Legislature (Bombay, Bengal, Madras, NW Frontier Province, Punjab) enhanced with minimum 4 and maximum 8 additional members nominated for a period of 2 years.
  • Central Legislative Council to be called ‘Imperial Legislative Council’.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1861

  • Legislative Council was neither representative nor deliberative.
  • Effective powers such as giving prior sanction to the Bill, vetoing the Bill and making ordinance were reserved to Governor General.
  • All legislative measures passed by Government of India were to be communicated to Secretary of State for India who could disallow them with the approval of the crown.

Impact of the Act of 1861

  • Some Indians got entry into the Legislative Council, which was an advancement over earlier Act.
  • The non-official members got opportunity to highlight important issues concerning Indian people n the Council and to influence council to make law on it.

Indian Council Act of 1892

Causes for the enactment of Act of 1892

  • Formation of Indian National Congress in 1885.
  • The sustained efforts of INC for reforms in Legislative Council at central as well as provincial level.
  • To pacify Indians who were agitated against the Lytton’s repressive acts such as University Act, Vernacular Press Act and Arms Act, etc.

Provisions of the Act of 1892

  • Non official members of Imperial Legislative Council to be nominated not by Britishers but by Bengal Chamber of Commerce and the Provincial Legislative Councils.
  • Increase in the number of additional members of Central Council between 10 to 16 and increase in additional non-official members in provincial council between 8 and 20.
  • The non-official members of Provincial Legislative Council to be nominated by local bodies such as Universities, district board and municipalities.
  • The functions of the Legislative Councils both at Central and Provinces were enlarged, so as to include the discussion on the financial statement (budget), addressing questions to the executive, etc.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1892

  • The questions asked by members of Legislative council could be disallowed by the President of the Legislative Council without assigning reasons.
  • In legislative council, official members majority was retained.
  • Some of the non-official members were to be elected and some to be nominated.
  • Most of the demands of the Congress were not incorporated into it.

Impact of the Act of 1892

  • Due to increase in the number of non-additional members, more Indians got representation in Legislative Council at Central and provincial levels.
  • Partial election was introduced in the category of non-official members.

Morley Minto Reform Act 1909

Causes for the enactment of Act 1909

  • The Partition of Bengal in 1905 and subsequent agitation against British rule.
  • The split in INC in which moderates and militant (Extremists) got separated and British government wanted to please the Moderate by giving some concessions/reforms and to segregate extremists.
  • Creation of Muslim League in 1906 led the British Government to think in terms of communal division in the country in order to perpetuate the British rule.

Provisions of the Act of 1909

  • Expansion of Legislative Council at the Centre from 16 to 69 members and provincials Legislatures with 52 in Bengal, 47 in Madras, Bombay and United Province each, 41 in East Bengal and Assam, 25 in Punjab and 16 in Burma.
  • It was first attempt to introduce a representative and popular element in Indian administration.
  • Election was introduced for Legislative Council at the centre based on electoral college.
  • At Provincial Level, the elected non-official members were now in majority.
  • In case of Central Legislative Council, out of 69, 37 were official members and 32 were officials. (Official majority retained).
  • This Act enlarged the function of Legislative Council such as right to discussion, asking questions and supplementary questions, etc.
  • Separate electorate system, that is, communal representation for Muslim Community was introduced.
  • The beginning of non-official resolution in the council.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1909

  • By introducing separate representation for Muslim Community, the Britishers followed the policy of Divide and Rule.
  • Although the members of Legislative Council were given the right to discuss budget, asking questions and supplementary questions but President of the Council retained the power to disallow any question or any resolution without assigning any reason.
  • At the center, official members majority was retained.

Impact of the Act of 1909

  • It is said that this Act sowed the seed of Communalism in India.
  • There was rise in revolutionary activities in India including formation of several revolutionary organisations.
  • Agitation against British Rule intensified. Tilak and Annie Besant launched Home Rule Movement.
  • With the advent of Gandhi, anti-British struggle took new turn and for the cause of peasants and workers. Champaran Satyagrah was launched in 1917.

Montague Chelmford Reform Act 1919

Causes for the enactment of the Act:

  • Montague Declaration of 1917 was that responsible government was to be the ultimate objective of the British Government in India.
  • In 1916, Lucknow Pact consolidated and strengthened position of Congress because both Moderate and Militant elements of the Congress as well as Congress and Muslim League came together to fight a common battle against British Imperialism.
  • Champaran Satyagraha launched by Gandhi ji highlighted moral bankruptcy of British Government and its insensitivity towards the peasants, workers and common man.
  • Home Rule Movement also impacted upon the British Government to make effective change in India.
  • The pressure generated in British Parliament for reforms in India.

Provisions of the Act of 1919

  • The council of Secretary of State was to comprise 8 to 12 members. Half of them were to have spent at least 10 years in India.
  • The Governor General had the power to nominate as many members of Executive Council as he wanted.
  • Indian Legislature was made ‘Bicameral’, i.e., having 2 houses – the Council of States (Upper House) and the Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
  • The tenure of upper house was 5 years and of lower house was 3 years.
  • The legislative assembly (lower house) was to consist of 143 members out of which 103 were to be elected and 40 to be nominated by the Governor General.
  • The Council of State (upper house) was to consist of 60 members, out of which one was to be the President, 34 elected and 25 nominated.
  • Relaxation of central control over the provinces.
  • Subject of administration was divided into 2 categories – Central and Provincial.
  • Provincial Legislature were to be ‘Unicameral’ in which 70% members were to be elected and 30 percent were to be nominated.
  • The System of Dyarchy was introduced in the provinces. Under this the Legislative subjects were divided into 2 categories: transferred and reserved.
    • On transferred subjects, it is the responsibility of the concerned minister to introduce Bill.
    • On the reserved subject, it is the monopoly of the Governor General.
  • Besides Muslims, other minorities including Sikhs, Anglo Indians, Christians and Europeans were also given separate representation in the Legislature.
  • The provision for appointment of a High Commissioner in England to look after trade and student’s interest was included.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1919

  • Separate electorate system was expanded to include Sikhs, Anglo-Indians, Christians, etc.
  • Important subjects were kept under the reserved categories.
  • Effective powers were in the hands of Governor General despite relaxation of Central control over the provinces.
  • In this act, it was mentioned that new reforms were to be examined only after 10 years.

Impact of the Act of 1919

  • Indian National Congress was not very happy with this act.
  • In the Non-Cooperation Movement launched by Gandhi this Act was also the target of attack.
  • In several provinces Congress ministers resigned.
  • Swaraj Party was created, under the leadership of Motilal Nehru, C R das, etc.
  • Indian National Movement galvanized and people of India realized that the reforms introduced by British Government are nothing more than eyewash.

Government of India Act of 1935

Causes for the enactment of Act of 1935

  • To incorporate recommendations of Simon Commission (1928).
  • Impact of Civil Disobedience Movement or Salt Satyagrah launched by Gandhi (1930).
  • Following the recommendations of 3 Round Table Conferences, (1930, 1931 and 1932).
  • To incorporate the provisions of Gandhi – Irwin Pact.
  • To incorporate the provisions of Poona Pact between Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar.
  • As a result of pressure generated by Indian National Movement.

Provisions of the Act of 1935

  • This Act provided for a FEDERATION taking the provinces and Indian states (Princely States) as units.
  • It was optional for Indian states to join the federation.
  • The Indian Council was abolished and in its place a few viceroys were nominated to help the Secretary of State for India.
  • Provincial autonomy was given with respect to subjects delegated to them.
  • Three-fold division of Legislative powers i.e., Federal list, provincial list and concurrent list.
  • Dyarchy was established at Centre and it came to an end in provinces.
  • The federal legislature was to consist of 2 houses – The Council of States (Upper House) and The Federal Assembly (Lower House).
  • Two new provinces – Sindh and Orrisa were created.
  • Burma and Aden were separated from India
  • Reserve Bank of India was established under the act of 1935.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1935

  • This act provides for Federation but federation never came into being.
  • No princely state was ready to join the federation.
  • The Governor General remained the head of Central Administration and enjoyed wide powers concerning administration, legislation and finance.
  • No money bill could be placed in the Central legislation without the consent of the Governor General.
  • The governor General had the power to issue Ordinances and exercise Veto on any law passed by Central Legislature.
  • The separate electorate continued as before.

Impact of the Act of 1935

  • This Act was severely criticised by the Congress and the Muslim League.
  • Although the act was criticised but in election of 1937, political parties participated.
  • In 1939 declaring India as a belligerent country, emergency was imposed.
  • This Act made people realise that India’s independence is now very near.

Indian Independence Act 1947

There were external and the internal causes that led to the enactment of the Indian Independence Act of 1947. These causes were:

External Causes

  • World War II and the British indulgence in it which crippled Britain economically.
  • After the war the formation of Labour Party Government in Britain under the leadership of Clement Atlee, which was sympathise to the cause of Indians.
  • The role of INA (Indian National Army) outside India as well as in India.

Internal Causes

  • Cripps proposal of 1942.
  • Quit India Movement launched by Gandhi in 1942
  • Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946, which provided for making of Constitution Assembly.
  • Revolt in Indian Navy and Indian Army against the Britishers.

Provisions of the Act of 1947

The Indian Independence Act 1947 declared India to be Independent but with position of the country into 2 dominions – India and Pakistan.

The main features of the Indian Independence Act 1947 also called Mountbatten or Dicky Bird Plan were:

  • The act provided for the creation of 2 independent dominions – India and Pakistan.
  • It provided for Partition of Punjab and Bengal with separate ‘Boundaries Commissions’ to demarcate the boundaries between them.
  • Besides West Punjab and East Bengal, Pakistan was to consist of territories of Sindh, North western Frontiers Provinces, Sylhet division of Assam, Bhawalpur, Khairpur, Baluchistan and 8 other relatively minor Princely states in Baluchistan.
  • By this act, the sovereignty and responsibility of British Crown over India was to lapse from the ‘Appointed Day’ (the date India gets independence – later decided as 15th August, 1947).
  • The post of Secretary of State was abolished.
  • Crown was longer the source of authority.
  • The Governor General and provincial Governors to act as Constitutional Heads.
  • Dominion status was given.
  • Constituent Assembly was to function as the provisional Parliament of the dominion.
  • The Constituent Assembly was to have unlimited powers to frame any Constitution and to repeal any Act of British Parliament including Indian Independence Act.

Shortcomings of the Act of 1947

  • India got Independence but it was surgically divided into two - Indian and Pakistan.
  • Indian Independence Act was much delayed.
  • For Princely states, the provision was made that they were free to join the Dominion of India or Pakistan or remain Independent.
  • There was a provision for partition however, the act also provided for one common Governor General if the Dominions so agreed.

Did You Know

  • The constitution of India is mainly derived from the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • Some of laws of Indian Government are still as per the laws set during the British Rule.