Government of India Act, 1858: Key Features
In August 1858, the British parliament passed an act that set an end to the rule of the company. The control of the British government in India was transferred to the British crown. At this time, Victoria was the queen of Britain. The supreme body in Britain was the British parliament to which the British government was responsible. All activities of the British government were however, carried out in the name of the monarch. A minister of the British government, called the secretary of state, was made responsible for the government of India. As the British government was responsible to parliament, the supreme body for India also was the British parliament. The British Governor-General of India was now also given the title of viceroy which means the representative of the monarch.
Features of Act
1. It provided that India henceforth was to be governed by, and in the name of, Her Majesty. It changed the designation of the Governor-General of India to that of Viceroy of India. He (viceroy) was the direct representative of the British Crown in India. Lord Canning thus became the first Viceroy of India.
2. It ended the system of double government by abolishing the Board of Control and Court of Directors.
3. It created a new office, Secretary of State for India, vested with complete authority and control over Indian administration. The secretary of state was a member of the British cabinet and was responsible ultimately to the British Parliament.
4. It established a 15-member Council of India to assist the secretary of state for India. The council was an advisory body. The secretary of state was made the chairman of the council.
5. It constituted the secretary of state-in-council as a body corporate, capable of suing and being sued in India and in England.
‘The Act of 1858 was, however, largely confined to the improvement of the administrative machinery by which the Indian Government was to be supervised and controlled in England. It did not alter in any substantial way the system of government that prevailed in India.’ After 1858, the interests of India were further subordinated to those of Britain. Due to the conflicts of Britain with the other imperialist powers, India was made to serve the British economic interests. Indian resources were also utilized to serve the interests of the British Empire in other parts of the world and in costly wars against other countries.