Government of India Act 1858

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Government of India Act 1858| Provisions of the Act, Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, Constitutional importance , Conclusion

Introduction

There was a lot of worry in England against the continuation of the rule of the English East India Company.
It was pointed out that a trading company whose main objective was profit could not be entrusted with the work of the administration of a sub-continent like India. The out-break of the revolt and its suppression strengthened the hands of those who demanded the abolition of the rule of the Company.

The Government of Great Britain decided to abolish the Company. Naturally, the Company protested.
It challenged the most searching investigation into the causes of the revolt and maintained that the British Government was also responsible for errors of lapse and commission of the Company because the British Government had the deciding voice in the affairs of the Company.

The company also took pride in its achievements in India. However, in spite of all this, Lord Palmerston then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom introduced a bill for the transfer of control of the government of India from the East India company to the crown, referring to the grave defects in the existing system of the government of India. However, before this bill was to be passed, Palmerston was forced to resign on another issue.

Later, Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby introduced another bill which was originally titled as “An act for the Better Government of India” and it was passed on 2 August 1858. This act provided that, India was to be governed directly and in the name of the Crown.

Government of India Act 1858

Provisions of the Act

• The Act of 1858 declared that hereafter, “India shall be governed by and in the name of the queen and vested in the Queen all the territories and powers of the Company. However, the Government of India was to be carried on by the Viceroy on behalf of the Queen. The military and naval forces of the Company were transferred to the Crown.

• The Broad of Control and the Court of Directors were abolished and all the powers possessed by them were given to the Secretary of State was given the power to superintend, control and direct the affairs of the Government of India. He was to sit in Parliament and was also to be assisted by a Parliamentary Under Secretary.

• The Queen’s principal secretary of state received the powers and duties of the company’s court of directors. As regards the Indian Council of Secretary of State, it was to consist of 15 members. Out of the total, 7 were to be elected by the Court of Directors and the rest of the 8 members were to be appointed by the Crown. The council became an advisory body in Indian affairs.

• For all communications between the Britain and India, the secretary of the state became the real channel. He was given not only a vote but also a casting vote. The council was to meet twice a week. The members of the India Council could be divided into various committees for purposes of administrative convenience.

• Secretary of State was given the power to over-rule even the majority decisions of the India Council. But in the case of grants or appropriation of Indian revenues, Secretary of State was not authorized to act against the majority view of his council. The concurrence of a majority on members present at a meeting was required for division and distribution of patronage, for making contracts, sales and purchases on behalf of the Government of India. The India Council was given control over civil and military servants of the Crown.

• Secretary of State was given the power of sending and receiving secret messages and dispatches from the Governor-General without the necessity of communicating them to the India Council. The India Council was a body of permanent civil servants who had expert knowledge about the affairs of India.

• It was laid down that except for the purpose of repelling invasion or for any other sudden or urgent necessity, Indian revenues were not to be employed for military operations outside India without the consent of Parliament.

• The Act of 1858 divided the patronage between the Government of India and the Secretary of State in Council. All appointments and promotions “which by law or under any resolutions, usage or custom, are not made by any authority in India, shall continue to be made in India by the like authority”. Appointments to the concerned Civil service were to be made by open competition in accordance with the rules made by the secretary of State in council with the help of the Civil Service Commissioners.

Queen’s Proclamation of 1858

A Durbar was held by Lord Canning at Allahabad on November 1, 1858 to declare the assumption of the Government of India by the Crown. On that occasion, Lord Canning also read about the Queen’s Proclamation to the Princes and people of India.

It is a matter of fact that the Queen’s Proclamation was ordered in accordance with her sentiments.
The proclamation went on to declare unconditional pardon, forgiveness and forgetfulness for the past offences and ended by declaring that “when by the blessing of Providence internal calm shall be restored, it is our earnest desire to stimulate the peaceful industry to promote the works of public utility and improvement and to administer its government for the benefit of all our subjects resident therein. In their prosperity will be our strength in their contentment our security, and in their gratitude our best reward.

Lord Canning

In simple language, the Queen’s Proclamation assured the Indian princes that their territories will not be seized by the British Government and shall be given the right of adoption. The British Government ordered its servants in India not to interfere in the religious affairs of the Indians. In framing and administering law in India, due regard was to be shown to the customs, ancient rites and usages of the Indians. Indian subjects of her Majesty were declared equal with the British subjects in other parts of the Empire. Equal rights and opportunities were guaranteed to the Indians along with other British subjects. Pardon and amnesty were offered to all those Indians who were still in arms against the British Government and who were not guilty of murder of British subjects. Treaties of the English East India Company were declared to be in force.

Constitutional importance of the Act 1858

• The Act of 1858 is generally termed as the Act for the better government of India.

• Its constitutional importance and revolutionary character lies in the fact that it closed one great period of Indian History and ushered in another great era the direct role of the Crown.

• India was, no longer, to be governed by a trading organization.

• All the territories acquired by the Company through force and fraud became the possessions of the Crown. It thus marks the end of old and the beginning of a new era in the constitutional development of India. It may, however, be stated that though the Act marked a change in the form of government, it did not make any difference in the substance of powers.

• The significance of the Act is also obvious from the fact that it dealt the the system of double government. In fact, the elite of England were already opposed to the Dual arrangements.

• They were conscious of diffusion and dissipation of responsibility which the division of power of government between the Court of Directors and Board of Control had brought in its wake. The reaction against the system however attained climax after the mutiny.

• The Act of 1858 earned the gratitude of the enlightened opinion in England by driving last nail into the coffin of the Double Government.

• The establishment of India Council in 1858 was another measure of great importance. Its predecessor the Court of Directors exhibited complete ignorance regarding the Indian affairs, as most of these Directors had never
been to India. The members of the Council, on the other hand, were to be fully aware of even petty details about the Indian affairs as they were to be equipped with 10 years of residential or service qualifications in India before the appointment.

• The institution of the office of the Secretary of State an office of dignity and influence, authority and power was another important outcome of the Act.

• The Act established a new healthy relationship between the native rulers and foreign masters.

• The Act did not ignore concessions to the common people. The Principle of religious toleration was inculcated.

• Differentiation on grounds of race or creed in the public service was disapproved.

Conclusion

With all these important changes effected by the Act, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that it did not grant any political rights to Indians nor did it allow them a share in the administration of their country. A few ambitious aristocrats were no doubt gratified by its loud declarations, but the majority remained dissatisfied. National consciousness had dawned upon the people.

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