The British government passed many laws and acts in India before the formulation of constitution. These acts elicited different reactions from different parts of the Indian society and played a pivotal role in the modeling of either the Indian polity or the Society. Some of the most important and consequential acts are listed below:
Regulating Act of 1773
This was the first intervention of the British government to regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India.
• It made the Governor of Bengal the ‘Governor-General of Bengal’ and an executive council to aid and assist him.
• The first Governor-General was Lord Warren Hastings. It also provided for the formation of a supreme court at Calcutta.
Effectively, the Act strengthened the control of British government over the Company.
Pitt’s India Act of 1784
This Act drew a line between the commercial and political functions of the company. Therefore the ‘Court of Directors’ were to manage commercial affairs and the ‘Board of Control’ was to regulate military and civil government and the British Possessions.
Charter Act of 1833
This Act is known for its centralizing efforts.
• The Governor-General of Bengal was made the Governor-General of India.
• He was given legislative powers over the entire India including the Governors of Bombay and Madras.
• The commercial activities of East India Company were put an end to.
Charter Act of 1853
The last charter Act brought out separation in the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council.
• The Civil services were made accessible to the Indians.
• Local representation of 4 members was provided in the Central Legislative Council.
Government of India Act of 1858
This Act came as an after effect of the Revolt of 1857.
• It put a total end the Company rule and the powers completely came to be vested with the British Crown.
• It provided for India to be governed by the British crown through a representative who was to be called the Viceroy of India.
• Board of control and Court of Directors were abolished.
• A new office ‘secretary of state was created with a 15 member council of India to assist him.
Indian Councils Act of 1861
• Some Indians were to be nominated by the Viceroy in the Council as non-official members.
• Some decentralization was undertaken by reverting the powers back to Bombay and Madras presidencies.
• New legislative councils for Bengal, North-West Frontier province and Punjab were created.
• Viceroy was given powers to make rules for transaction of business in the council and to issue ordinances.
Indian Councils Act of 1892
• The number of non official members was increased in both the central and provincial legislative councils.
• The legislative council’s power was increased so they could discuss budget and ask questions to the executive.
Indian Councils Act of 1909
This was also known as the Morley-Minto reforms.
• The number of members in both the Central and Provincial legislative council was increased.
• An Indian Satyendra Prasad Sinha was included in the Viceroy’s executive council for the first time.
• Separate electorate was given to Muslims.
Government of India Act, 1919
This Act was known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.
• The Central and Provincial lists of subjects were introduced in legislature.
• The Provincial subjects were further divided into Transferred Subjects and Reserved Subjects, the legislative council had no say in the latter.
This was known as the system of Diarchy.
• The Legislative Council was bifurcated into the upper house (Council of state) and Lower house (Legislative Assembly).
• Separate electorate was extended to Sikhs, Christian, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
Government of India Act of 1935
• The powers between centre and states were divided in terms of Federal list, Provincial list and Concurrent list.
• Diarchy was abolished in the provinces.
• Diarchy was adopted at the centre with Tranferred and Reserved subjects.
• The legislature of Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, Assam and United province were made bicameral.
• Provided for the formation of Reserve Bank of India.
Indian Independence Act of 1947
Provided enactment to the Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947.
• Ended the British rule and declared India to be Independent from 15th August 1947.
• Provided for the partition of India.
• Office of Viceroy was abolished and the two Dominions were to have Governors.
• The Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions were to have powers to legislate for their respective territories.
• The princely states were to decide their affiliations, themselves.
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