Government of India Act 1858

The British Administration in India can broadly be divided into two phases. The first phase was from 1772 to 1858 when the East India Company ruled, and the second phase was from 1858 to 1947, when the British Crown ruled.

The Charter Act of 1853 allowed the East India Company to rule India until further order. Many in England and in India opposed the rule of the East India Company and wanted to establish the British Crown's rule. The revolt of 1857 provided an opportunity to the British Government to end the company's rule and establish direct rule. The East India Company was blamed for the outbreak of the revolt, though the company tried to defend itself. John Stuart Mill, a well-known scholar, argued in favour of the company and reminded the British Government about the 'great service' the company had rendered both to India and to the Crown. Ross Mangles, the chairman of the company, asserted that an intermediate non-political and perfectly independent body like the company was an indispensable necessity for good government in India.

However, the British Government had already made up its mind to end the company's rule. Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, introduced the 'Bill for Better Government of India' in February 1858. Addressing the House of Commons, he pointed out: "The principle of our political system is that all administrative functions should be accompanied by ministerial responsibility to parliament but in this case, the chief function in the government of India is committed to a body not responsible to parliament, not appointed by the crown, but elected by persons who have no more connection with India than consists in the simple possession of so much India Stock." Palmerston highlighted several defects of the company's rule, such as it being irresponsible, cumbersome, complex, and based on the system of Double government.

After a long debate in the British Parliament, the Bill for the Better Government of India was passed, and it received royal assent on August 2, 1858.

Features of Government of India Act, 1858

Provisions of the Government of India Act 1858

1. Establishment of the British Crown's rule through Parliament: By the Act of 1858, the rule of the East India Company was brought to an end, and the rule of the British Crown through the British Parliament was established. The Governor General was elevated as Viceroy and became the representative of the British Crown in India. All the army and land occupied by the company were transferred to the British Crown.

2. Secretary of State and Indian Council: The powers of the Court of Directors and the Board of Control were transferred to the Secretary of State for India, assisted by a council of 15 members. The Secretary of State was empowered to inspect, conduct, and control the work of the government of India. He was also allowed to sit in parliament.

Of the 15 members of the Council of the Secretary of State, 8 were to be appointed by the Crown and 7 by the Court of Directors. The Act also provided that at least 9 of these members must have served in India for not less than ten years and they must not have been away from the country (India) for more than ten years at the time of their appointment. The duration of council members depended on their conduct. The Crown could remove them on the request of parliament (both the Houses). The members received £1200 per annum from India's exchequer.

3. Power of Secretary of State: In some matters, the Secretary of State was authorized to make decisions. He had the power of veto against the decisions of the council. He also had the power to cast a vote. He had to honour the decisions of the council in matters of revenue, appointments, purchase, mortgage, and sale of properties of the Government of India. He was allowed to send secret letters to the viceroy without the knowledge of the council. He was also allowed to make new rules for Indian Civil Services. Indians were permitted to appear in the competitive examination of Civil Services.

4. Appointments: The power to appoint the Viceroy and Governor-General and governors of Presidencies (Bombay, Madras) was given to the British crown. The power to appoint a Lieutenant Governor was given to the Viceroy after getting approval from the British Government.

5. Parliamentary Control over Secretary of State: The Secretary of State had to present a report on Revenue, Railways, Law, and Construction before the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament. Without the permission of Parliament, except in emergency cases, Indian revenue could not be utilized in military expeditions/missions outside the Indian Territory. The British Parliament could ask questions from the Secretary of State in governance and revenue. The parliament was empowered to criticize him and remove him.

On 1 November, Lord Canning published Queen Victoria's proclamation at Allahabad. The term Viceroy was used for the first time in the queen's proclamation. It was announced that no state would be annexed; no forceful conversion would take place, and all the appointments in the public service would be made on merit and qualification. The Queen's proclamation also assured that Indian traditions would be respected in framing the law. Full protection would be given in the ownership of properties and succession. The peasants would have their rights on land as long as they were paying revenue.

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