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INDIAN COUNCIL ACT 1861: BACKGROUND, OBJECTIVES, PROVISIONS, FAILURE

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INDIAN COUNCIL ACT 1861:BACKGROUND, OBJECTIVES, PROVISIONS, FAILURE

Indian Council Act 1861
Indian Council Act 1861

Indian Council Act 1861 was introduced by the British Government that had monumental implication in the constitutional history of India because it connected the Indians representatives with the functions of legislation for the first time in the colonial period. The present article attempts to analyze the background, objectives, provisions, and the reasons for the failure of the Indian Council Act 1861.

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE OF INDIAN COUNCIL ACT 1861

Since the inception of the British Raj and the failure of the Government of India Act 1858, an Indian thought was gaining prominence which believed that the Revolt of 1857 was an antagonistic voice of nationals against the Britishers who were sidelining Indians from the administrative functioning of India. Evaluating this thought in his pamphlet “The Causes of Indian Revolt” in 1859, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan suggested the British Government involve Indian subjects in the Provincial and Legislative Councils of India for preventing any expansive disruption shortly. Two years later, Indian Council Act 1861 was introduced by the British Government that had monumental implication in the constitutional history of India because it connected the Indians representatives with the functions of legislation for the first time in the colonial period. 

PROVISIONS OF INDIAN COUNCIL ACT 1861:

Indian Council Act 1861
Indian Council Act 1861
Indian Council Act 1861 encompassed the following provisions:
  • Decentralization of legislative powers: The legislative powers that were rigidly centralized in Bengal after the Charter Act 1833 were now decentralized in Madras and Bombay for effective administration throughout the country. British Government’s motive of concentrating lawmaking powers in Bengal was to build legislative uniformity but the system wasn’t up to people’s expectations and it overburdened the Governor-General of India with innumerable responsibilities and therefore, the foregoing provision was amended for ensuring administrative convenience.
  • Introduction of Legislative Councils in other states: Additionally, Governor-General was entrusted to establish legislative councils in existing provinces for administrative comfort and he could also appoint a Lieutenant for legislation in these provinces. Consequently, new legislative councils were defined in Bengal (1862), North Western Frontier Province (1866) and Punjab (1897).
  • The nomination of Non-Official Members of Legislative Council by Viceroy: Under this enactment, Viceroy was sought to nominate Indians as non-official members of his extended legislative council but they weren’t given any resilience and power to question on the administrative decisions. The first such members nominated by Viceroy Lord Canning were Raja of Benares, Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao.
  • Enlargement of Executive Council: The Viceroy’s executive council was enlarged by the addition of a 5th member called a jurist. Later in 1874, a 6th member was also appointed for the public interest.
  • Introduction of Portfolio System: Indian Executive Council that was composed of 6 members delegated by the Governor-General were allocated distinct departmental responsibilities of home, revenue, military, law, finance and public welfare separately. Henceforth, a portfolio system started for the first time in India.
  • Viceroy was permitted to issue ordinances (temporary laws) in case of emergency without the consensus of the Legislative Council which would be valid for 6 months.

Failure of Indian Council Act 1861:

The Indian Council Act 1861, as a whole, proved to be a disaster and it can’t bring any considerable changes to Indian legislation but the steady yet constructive step of involving Indians into the administrative sector of India initiated with the introduction of this act.

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