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Charter Act of 1853

Background

Charter Act of 1853 was the last charter act passed for the East India Company.  It was passed on the expiry of the charter act of 1833. The charter was renewed but no substantial changes were made. However, this was for the first time, that this charter act, unlike other charter acts, did not fix any limit for the continuance of the administration of the company in India. The act provided that the Indian territories will remain under the Governance of the company, until the parliament otherwise directed.

Features of the Act-

  • It separated, for the first time, the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council. It provided for the addition of six new members called legislative councilors to the council.

In other words, it established a separate Governor-General’s legislative council which came to be known as the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. This legislative wing of the council functioned as a mini- Parliament, adopting the same procedures as the British Parliament. Thus, legislation, for the first time, was treated as a special function of the government, requiring special machinery and special process.

Appointment of a separate Governor for the Presidency of Bengal, distinct from the Governor-General. However, the court of Directors and the Board of Control were authorized to appoint a lieutenant governor, till the appointment of a Governor was made. Please note that the Lieutenant governor was appointed in 1854, but no Governor was appointed for Bengal till 1912.

This act also empowered the Court of Directors either to constitute a new Presidency (In lines of Presidency of Madras or Bombay) or appoint a Lieutenant Governor. No new presidency was constituted but in 1859, a new Lieutenant governor was appointed for Punjab.

  • It introduced an open competition system of selection and recruitment of civil servants. The covenanted civil service was, thus, thrown open to the Indians also. Accordingly, the Macaulay Committee (the Committee on the Indian Civil Service) was appointed in 1854.
  • It extended the Company’s rule and allowed it to retain the possession of Indian territories on trust for the British Crown. But, it did not specify any particular period, unlike the previous Charters. This was a clear indication that the Company’s rule could be terminated at any time the Parliament liked.
  • It introduced, for the first time, local representation in the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. Of the six new legislative members of the GovernorGeneral’s council, four members were appointed by the local (provincial) governments of Madras, Bombay, Bengal, and Agra.
  • In England, the Charter Act of 1853 reduced the number of Directors of the Company from 24 to 18. Out of these 18, six were to be appointed by the crown.
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