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The Charter Act Of 1813, 1833 and 1853

The Charter Act of 1813 passed by the British Parliament renewed the East India Company’s charter for another 20 years. This is also called the East India Company Act, 1813. This act is important in that it defined for the first time the constitutional position of British Indian territories.

Background
  • Due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Continental System in Europe (which prohibited the import of British goods into French allies in Europe), British traders and merchants suffered.
  • So they demanded they be given a share in the British trade in Asia and dissolve the monopoly of the East India Company.
  • The company objected to this.
  • Finally, British merchants were allowed to trade in India under a strict licensing system under the Charter Act of 1813.
  • But in trade with China and the tea trade, the company still retained its monopoly.
Provisions of the Charter Act of 1813
  • This Act asserted the Crown’s sovereignty over British possessions in India.
  • Company’s rule and trade monopoly in India was extended to another 20 years. Monopoly was ended except for the trade in tea and with China.
  • It empowered the local governments to tax people subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
  • The company’s dividend was fixed at 10.5%.
  • The Act gave more powers for the courts in India over European British subjects.
  • Another important feature of this act was to grant permission to the missionaries to come to India and engage in religious proselytization. The missionaries were successful in getting the appointment of a Bishop for British India with his headquarters at Calcutta in the provisions of the Act.
  • The act provided for a financial grant towards the revival of Indian literature and the promotion of science.
  • The company was also to take up a greater role in the education of the Indians under them. It was to set aside Rs.1 Lakh for this purpose.

The Charter Act Of 1833

The Charter Act of 1833 was passed in the British Parliament which renewed the East India Company’s charter for another 20 years. This was also called the Government of India Act 1833 or the Saint Helena Act 1833.

Features of the Charter Act of 1833
  • The company’s commercial activities were closed down. It was made into an administrative body for British Indian possessions.
  • The company’s trade links with China were also closed down.
  • This act permitted the English to settle freely in India.
  • This act legalised the British colonisation of the country.
  • The company still possessed the Indian territories but it was held ‘in trust for his majesty’.
Provisions of the Charter Act of 1833

India became a British colony

  • The Governor-General of Bengal was re-designated as the Governor-General of India. This made Lord William Bentinck the first Governor-General of India.
  • Thus, the country’s administration was unified under one control.
  • The Governors of Bombay and Madras lost their legislative powers.
  • The Governor-General had legislative powers over entire British India.
  • The Governor-General in council had the authority to amend, repeal or alter any law pertaining to all people and places in British Indian territories whether British, foreign or Indian native.
  • The civil and military affairs of the company were controlled by the Governor-General in council.
  • The Governor-General’s council was to have four members. The fourth member had limited powers only.
  • For the first time, the Governor-General’s government was called Government of India and the council was called India Council.

Indian Law Commission

  • The act mandated that any law made in India was to be put before the British Parliament and was to be called ‘Act’.
  • As per the act, an Indian Law Commission was established.
  • The first Law Commission had Lord Macaulay as its chairman.
  • It sought to codify all Indian law.

Split in Bengal Presidency

  • The act provided for the Presidency of Bengal to be divided into the Presidencies of Agra and Fort William.
  • But this never came into effect.

Indians in Government service

  • This was the first act that gave permission for Indians to have a share in the country’s administration.
  • It stated that merit should be the basis of employment to government service and not birth, colour, religion or race.

Slavery

  • The act provided for the mitigation of slavery existing in India at that time.
  • The British Parliament abolished slavery in Britain and all its possessions in 1833.

Tilt towards Christianity

  • Since the number of British residents in the country was increasing, the act allowed for having three Bishops in India.
  • It also sought to regulate the establishment of Christian institutions in India.
Significance of the Charter Act of 1833
  • It was the first step in the centralisation of India’s administration.
  • The ending of the East India Company’s commercial activities and making it into the British Crown’s trustee in administering India.
  • Codification of laws under Macaulay.
  • Provision for Indians in government service.
  • Separation of the executive and the legislative functions of the council.

The Charter Act Of 1853

The Charter Act 1853 was passed in the British Parliament to renew the East India Company’s charter. Unlike the previous charter acts of 1793, 1813 and 1833 which renewed the charter for 20 years; this act did not mention the time period for which the company charter was being renewed. This Act was passed when Lord Dalhousie was the Governor-General of India.

Provisions of the Charter Act 1853
  • Governor-General’s office
    1. The Law member (fourth member) became a full member with the right to vote.
    2. The Legislative Council which had six members now had 12 members.
    3. The 12 members were: 1 Governor-General, 1 Commander-in-Chief, 4 members of the Governor-General’s Council, 1 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, 1 regular judge of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, and 4 representative members drawn from among the company’s servants with at least 10 years tenure, appointed by the local governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras and North Western Provinces.
    4. The Governor-General could nominate a vice president to the council.
    5. The Governor-General’s assent was required for all legislative proposals.
  • The Court of Directors could create a new presidency or province. This was because of the difficulties that were faced in administering the increasingly large Indian territories of Britain.
    1. Since 1833 and 1853, two new provinces of Sind and Punjab were added.
    2. It could also appoint a Lieutenant Governor for these provinces. In 1859, a Lt. Governor was appointed for Punjab.
    3. This Act also led to the creation of Assam, Burma and the Central Provinces.
  • The Act provided for the appointment of a separate governor for the Bengal Presidency. It maintained that the governor of Bengal should be different from the Governor-General who was to head administration of the whole of India.
  • The number of Board of Directors was reduced from 24 to 18 out of which 6 people were to be nominated by the British Crown.
  • Indian Civil Services
    1. Macaulay Committee of 1854 gave India her first civil services.
    2. This act removed the right of patronage to appointments in civil service held by the Court of Directors.
    3. Appointment was to be done only by open competition based on merit and was open to all.
    4. The report recommended that only the ‘fittest’ be selected to the ICS.
Features of the Charter Act 1853
  • For the first time, the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council were separated.
  • This act served as the foundation of the modern parliamentary form of government. The legislative wing of the Governor-General’s Council acted as a parliament on the model of the British Parliament.
  • It extended the company’s rule for an indefinite period unlike the previous charter acts. Thus, it could be taken over by the British government any time.
  • Company’s influence was further reduced by this act. The Board of Directors now had 6 members who were Crown-nominated.
  • It gave birth to the Indian civil services and was open to all including Indians. This ended the system of appointments by recommendation and started a system of open and fair competition.
  • For the first time, local representation was introduced into the legislative council in the form of four members from the local governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras and North Western Provinces.

Read more here 

1- Regulating Act 1773, Pitt’s India Act 1784 & The Charter Act Of 1793

2- The Indian Councils Act 1909 or Morley-Minto Reforms

3- All about ‘The Government of India Act 1919

4- All about ‘The Government of India Act 1935

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