Indian Council Act 1861

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Indian Council Act 1861| Features of the Act, Constitutional significance of the act, Conclusion


• The Indian Council’s Act of 1861 marked an important step in the constitutional history of India.

• It made a beginning in representative institutions and legislative devolution means power started to share especially by central government to local or regional government.

• It helped the Governor-General to associate non-official Indians for purposes of legislation.

• The Central and Provincial Councils fulfilled the three-fold purpose of publicity, discussion and information.

• The people got an opportunity to put forward their grievances and the Government got an opportunity to defend its policy. However, it is to be noted that the non-official members of the Council were nominated by the Viceroy and not elected by the people.

• These non-official members were either the Indian Princes or their Diwans, big Zamindars or retired officials and not the natural leaders of the people who could really reflect and mirror their views and aspirations.

• The non-official members did not show much interest in the meetings of the Council.

• As a matter of fact, they showed the utmost reluctance to come and utmost hurry to depart. That may be due to the fact that the powers of the Legislative Councils were very much restricted.

• The non-official members had practically no say in the matter. The Council merely registered the decrees of the executive. No doubt the experiment was a failure, but it made the beginning of representative institutions.

Indian Council Act 1861

Features of the Act:

• The new Act provided for the addition of a fifth member to the Executive Council of the Viceroy.

• Canning had introduced the Portfolio system in 1859 that divided into several branches, which entrusted to different members of the Governor General’s council. It also envisages that the member in-charge of his department could issue final orders with regard to matters which concerned his department.

• The Act empowered the Governor-General to delegate special business to individual members of the Executive Council, and henceforward the various members of Council had their own portfolios and dealt on their own initiative with all but most important mater.

• The most important matters were placed before the Governor-General and if any differences of opinion appeared, those were considered by the whole Council.

• Governor-General was authorized to nominate a President who was to preside over the meetings of the Executive Council in his absence. He was given the power of making rules and regulations for the conduct of the business of the Executive Council.

• The Executive Council of the Governor-General was to be strengthened by the addition of not less than 6 and not more than 12 members nominated by the Governor-General for the purposes of legislation.

• The function of the Council was strictly limited to legislation and the Act express the forbid the transaction of any other business.

• Certain restrictions were put on the legislative powers.

• The previous sanction of the Governor-General was required for introducing any legislation concerned certain specified subjects such as public debates, public revenues, Indian religious rights, military disciplines and policy towards the Indian states.

• No law could be made which infringed the authority of the Home Government or violated the provisions of certain Acts made by the Parliament.

• Governor-General was given the power of vetoing any law passed by the Council.

• In case of emergency he was also empowered issue, ordinances which possessed the same authority as law.

• These ordinances were to remain in force for six months unless they were dissolved or repealed by the ordinance or law. The cause of issuing an ordinance was to be notified to the Secretary of State for Indian at once.The approval of the Governor-General was made necessary to every Act passed.

• The right to disallow the Acts was reversed for the Crown and the general authority of the British Parliament and Crown were expressly reserved.

• The Governments of Bombay and Madras were given the powers of nominating the Advocate General and not less than four and not more than 8 additional members at the Executive Council for purposes of legislation.

• These additional members were to hold office for two years. The business of the Council was to be strictly legislative. The consent of the Governor and the Governor-General was made necessary for all legislations passed or amended by the Government of Madras and Bombay.

• No distinction was made between the central and provincial subjects. However, measures concerning public debt, finances, currency, postoffice, telegraph, religion, patents and copyrights were ordinarily put under the control of the Central Government.

• The Governor-General was given the power to create new provinces. He was also given the power to appoint Lieutenant-Governors. He was also authorized to divide or alter the limits of any presidency, province or territory.

Constitutional significance of the act:

• The Act of 1861 is a measure of great constitutional importance.

• It enabled the Governor-General to associate the people of the land with the work of the legislation. The Act in fact embodied the advice of loyalists like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Sir Bartle Frere a member of the Governor-General’s Council.

• The act indeed provided opportunities to apprise themselves of the mind of the natives and thus avoid misunderstanding and suspicion against the activities of the government of the day.

• The act attained the significance “by restoring legislative powers to the Governments of Bombay and Madras and by making provision for the institution of similar Legislative Councils in other provinces. Thus, the Act laid the foundation of legislative devolution which ultimately led to the grant of provincial autonomy to the provinces in 1937.


It would not be an exaggeration if we say that, the Act laid the foundation of the system of administration which lasted till the end of the British regime in India. The portfolio system, which was legalised by section 8 of the Act, the ordinance power, the Legislative Councils with non-official members constitute cardinal features of our administration till today.

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