The governance reforms of the East India Company up to 1857

The direct rule of the East India Company was established in 1772 when Warren Hastings ended the dual government in Bengal. Until then, the Company enjoyed power without any responsibility. Now, after 1772, the Company had to face the real problem of governance. The East India Company was not trained in this field, as it was a trading company. Therefore, they experimented with many things in revenue, civil, and judicial administration, but in all stages of experimentation, their primary aim was to maximize profit. In their philosophy of administration, if law and order were given preference, it was mainly because they wanted to exploit the natural resources of India without any disturbances.

The East India Company started fighting and annexing territories in India from the mid-eighteenth century. The Company created a problem for the British Government. The biggest question in the mind of the British Government was regarding the extent of control they should have over the Company. The employees of the Company earned huge wealth through private trade and 'gifts' (bribes), mainly after the Battle of Plassey (1757). When those employees returned to England with good fortunes, the English people—the merchants, and the political leadership—became jealous of them. They too wanted to become rich. The English media started maligning the image of the employees of the East India Company, including Robert Clive, the Governor of Bengal. They were ridiculed as 'Nababs' (the Nawab) and condemned as oppressors and exploiters. It is important to note that the purpose of this hatred campaign against the Company and its employees was not to save Indians from their exploitation but to get a chance to do the same thing that the Company was doing. The British Government too, wanted to earn from India to reduce the tax burden on English people.

The first successful attempt by the British Government was made in 1667 when through a parliamentary Act, the East India Company was forced to pay £400,000 per year to the British treasury. Many people in the British establishment wanted to have more control over the East India Company. The rising capitalist class of England also wanted to end the monopoly of the East India Company so that they could sell their own manufactured items in India and could also purchase raw materials at a cheaper price. But thanks to corruption in British parliamentary politics and support from King George III, who was also a patron of the Company, the East India Company was saved from disaster. A compromise was reached between the two—the East India Company and the British Government. It was decided that the British Government would frame the basic policies for the Company to rule in India and the Company was allowed to retain its monopoly of Eastern trade and to appoint its officials in India.

The Regulating Act of 1773

The Regulating Act of 1773, passed by the British Parliament, was the first such Act through which the British Government started directing the East India Company. Warren Hastings was named the Governor-General of Bengal and an Executive Council was created with four members assisting the Governor-General.

The Act empowered the Governor-General in Council to make rules, ordinances, and regulations for good order and civil government. The Regulating Act, 1773 laid down the foundation of a new system of government. Warren Hastings had a big task of transforming a Company of merchants into the machinery of government.

The administration provided by Warren Hastings and the Regulating Act had the following shortcomings:

1. The revenue collectors also had magisterial powers that denied the landowners security from the oppression of the officers.

2. The zamindari rights were secured by the Company's servants in the name of their native servants or Banías. This practice continued till 1793, by when a large part of Bengal's land was transferred to these Banías from the traditional zamindars.

3. Under the Regulating Act, 1773, the power was given to the Governor-General in Council, not to the Governor-General. The decision had to be taken by the majority. This created a practical problem for Warren Hastings, as the members of the Executive Council were not cooperative.

4. The Regulating Act, 1773 also failed to clarify the relationship between the Governor-General and the Governors of Madras and Bombay Presidency.

5. The Regulating Act created a dual judiciary. On the one hand, a Supreme Court was set up at Calcutta for Europeans, based on English law. On the other hand, Sadar Diwani and Sadar Nizamat Courts, based on Indian laws or the laws made by the Governor-General in the Executive Council, were also set up.

Pitt's India Act of 1784

Pitt's India Act, 1784 removed many of these shortcomings. Its important provisions were as follows:

1. The strength of the Executive Council was reduced to three from four. The Governor-General now needed the support of only one member to have his way.

2. A Board of Control was set up in England with six members including the President. Its members were called Commissioners. The Court of Directors was made subservient to the Board of Control.

3. The Crown got the power to remove or recall any servant of the Company.

4. The Board of Control acquired access to all the papers of the Company and its approval was necessary for all dispatches relating to matters other than commercial business.

Thus, Pitt's India Act established the British Parliament's control over Indian affairs. Through the Secretary of State, it supervised, directed, and controlled the Governor-General and Council in India.

Administrative Reforms under Cornwallis

When Lord Cornwallis worked as Governor-General (1786-93), he initiated certain reforms in the administration. He enforced the rules against private trade and the acceptance of bribes by officials with strictness. To check corruption, he raised the salaries of the Company's servants. The collector was paid Rs. 1500 a month and one per cent commission. But he kept Indians outside of civil services, which he introduced in 1793. It was officially announced, in 1793, that all the posts in civil services, army, police, judiciary, and engineering, in which the salary is more than £500 per annum, would be given to only an Englishman. It was a deliberate policy based on many biases and apprehensions. They did not trust the ability and integrity of the Indians. Cornwallis once said that "every native of Hindustan is corrupt." But this was just an excuse. The real reasons for excluding Indians, however, were different. First, they believed that an Indian could never work to serve the interests of the British as the English. Second, the influential people in England wanted to send their 'near and dear ones as civil servants in India. Third, they wanted to make Indians dependent on them, to humiliate them, to remove self-respect from their minds, and to force them to accept 'mental slavery'. Thus, the white-collar jobs remained only for the whites. The Indians could hope only for the subordinate posts, that too, because the Englishmen were not ready to come for the low-paid posts. In the department of the judiciary, Indians could not rise above the status of a Munsif, in the police Darogha, and in the administrative branch a deputy collector. The civil services became the most prestigious service which protected all the British interests with great determination and dedication and rightly earned the name—the Steel frame of British rule in India.

Judicial Reforms under Cornwallis

Cornwallis brought a number of changes in the judiciary, collectively known as the Cornwallis Code. The zamindars lost police and judicial functions. Land revenue collection was separated from the administration of justice and the revenue court was abolished. Separate Diwani and Criminal Courts were set up.

Diwani Courts

1. The difference between lagan and money-related cases ceased to exist. The Diwani Court was to decide both kinds of cases.

2. The lowest court was 'Munsif ki Adalat', in which cases pertaining to matters of value up to 50 Rupees could be heard. Munsif was an Indian.

3. The Registrar was above the Munsif who could hear cases involving values of a maximum of 200 Rupees.

4. The District Court was above the Registrar, in which English judges were assisted by learned Hindus and Muslims.

5. Four provincial courts were set up at Calcutta, Dhaka, Murshidabad, and Patna. Here too the English judges were helped by the Indian advisers.

6. The highest court was Sadar-Diwani Adalat, where the Governor-General and his council delivered justice.

7. The final appeal could be made in the office of the English King and his council.

Criminal Court

1. District Criminal Courts were set up, which were mobile and whose judges were English.

2. Four provincial criminal courts were set up at Murshidabad, Calcutta, Dhaka, and Patna.

3. The highest court of appeal, in criminal cases, was Sadar Nizamat, which was headed by the Governor-General and his Council.

Features of Cornwallis Code

1. The Diwani cases of Hindus were governed through their Shastras, especially based on Manu Smriti. The Muslims, on the other hand, were governed through Islamic Shariat.

2. The criminal court was primarily based on Islamic Shariat with some changes, applicable to all, Hindus or Muslims.

3. The witness rule was changed; earlier a Muslim witness was treated to be more reliable than a non-Muslim.

4. Physical amputation was given up, instead, rigorous imprisonment was introduced.

5. The Company's employees, including collectors, were brought under the law. They could be tried in the court of law. Thus slowly, India moved towards 'rule of law' and 'equality before law'.

Reforms Introduced by William Bentinck

During the Governor-Generalship of William Bentinck (1828-35) the following reforms were introduced:

1. Indians could be appointed upto Sadar Amin. The posts of Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector were also created.

2. Regional languages were permitted in the courts instead of Persian.

3. Section 87 of the Charter Act of 1833 provided that "no Indian subject of the Company in India was to be debarred from holding any office under the Company by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent and colour." As expected, for the first four decades it remained only on paper but later, due to consciousness among rising middle class, the British had to recruit Indians in various capacity.

4. Provincial Courts of Appeal and Circuit, set up by Cornwallis, were abolished because these courts failed to serve its objectives. The powers of these courts were transferred to magistrate and collectors under the supervision of Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit.

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