Key features of Pitt’s India Act of 1784
To remove the drawbacks of the Regulating act and to make the administration of the company’s Indian territories efficient and responsible, a series of enquiries were made and measures were taken by the British parliament during the next decade.
Of these the most important one was the Pitt’s India Act of 1784, named after William Pitt the Younger Prime Minister of Britain at that time. This act set up a board of control in Britain through which the British government could fully control the company’s civil, military and revenue affairs in India.
The company, however, continued to have the monopoly of trade and the right to appoint and dismiss its own officials. Thus a system of dual government of British India by the British government and the company was set up.
Governor-General was given the power to overrule his council on important matters. Presidencies of Bombay and Madras were brought under his authority and he was made the commander-in-chief of all the British troops in India, both of the company and of the British government.
The principles laid down by the act of 1784 formed the base of the British administration in India. The agencies through which the governor-general exercised his power and responsibility were the army, the police, the civil service and the judiciary. The Indian Sepoys formed the bulk of the company’s army. Its size grew along with the British expansion. By the time the conquest of India was completed, the number of Sepoys had risen to about 200,000. They were regularly paid and thoroughly trained in the use of the latest arms.
The soldiers engaged by the Indian rulers did not usually have these facilities. Moreover, one success after another had won the company’s army considerable amount of prestige which attracted many recruits to it. But all the officers of this army were Europeans. Besides the company’s army, British troops were also stationed in India.
Though the company’s Indian soldiers earned the reputation of being very efficient, they were just mercenary soldiers of a colonial power. They did not have the pride that enthuse the soldiers of a national army nor were there many avenues of promotion open to them. These factors sometimes provoked them to revolt. The greatest of these revolts took place in 1857.
One of the provisions of the Pitt’s India act to forbade the policy of conquest. But this provision was seldom observed. Fresh conquests were necessary to serve the economic interests of Britain, i.e. wider market for the finished goods coming out of factories and finding new sources for collecting raw materials. Establishing law and order in the conquered territories as early as possible was also necessary for this purpose. So a regular police force had to be organized for maintaining law and order.
During the time of Lord Cornwallis, this force was given a regular shape. In 1791, a superintendent of police for Calcutta was appointed and soon other cities were placed in the charge of Kotwals. The districts were divided into Thanas, each of which was put under the charge of a Daroga. The hereditary village policeman became Chowkidars. Later the post of a District superintendent of police was created.
Though the police played a vital role in maintaining law and order, it never became popular. It earned much notoriety for its corruption and harassment of common people. Though it became the symbol of the Government authority all over the country, its lower ranks were very poorly paid. As in the army, here also, only the Europeans were eligible for higher posts.
Hence, the acts contain very important significance that British Government has been given the supreme control over company’s affairs and its administration. It was the first when company’s possessions called British possession.