Charter Act of 1833 – UPSC

The Charter Act of 1833, also known as the Saint Helena Act 1833 or the Government of India Act 1833, was passed by the British Parliament to renew the royal charter issued to the British East India Company for another 20 years. This Act was the final step towards centralization in British India.


The previous Charter Act of 1813 granted the 20 years extension to the British East India Company for continuation in India, which ended in 1833. For the renewal of the tenure of the East India Company in India, the British government enacted the Charter Act of 1833.

The Charter Act 1833 was also the outcome of the Industrial Revolution in England which envisages that Indian’s had to function as a market for the English mass production based on Laissez Faire.

Features of the Charter Act of 1833

  • The Charter Act of 1833 ended the activities of East India Company as a commercial body. The Company became an administrative body for the British Possessions in India.
  • The 1833 Act legalized the British colonization of India. The Company still possessed the territories in India but were held ‘in trust for His Majesty, His heirs, and successors’.
  • The trade links of the Company with China were closed down.
  • The Act also permitted the British to settle freely in India.
  • The Charter Act 1833 was also called the Saint Helena Act 1833, named after the British territory in the South Atlantic.
  • The Charter Act of 1833 was institutionalized based on the liberal concept.

Key provisions of the Charter Act of 1833

Ended the commercial privileges of the East India Company in India

  • The Charter Act of 1833 ended the remaining monopoly of British East India Company in trade with China and trade in tea. The Company ceased to be a trading company in India. The Act abolished all the commercial privileges of the Company.

Powers of Governor-General

  • The Act redesignated the Governor-General of Bengal as the Governor-General of India and vested in him all civil & military powers.
    • For the first time, the Governor-General’s government was called the ‘Government of India’ and his Executive Council as the India Council.
    • Thus, the Act created, for the first time, a Government of India having authority over the entire territorial area possessed by the British in India.
    • With the Charter Act of 1833, Lord William Bentinck became the first Governor-General of India.

Centralization of Power

  • The Charter Act of 1833 was regarded to be the most centralized Act in British governance in India. The Act envisaged the financial, legislative, and administrative centralization of the government in India.
    • With the Act, the Governors of Bombay and Madras lost their legislative powers.
    • The Governor-General and his executive council were given exclusive legislative powers for the entire British India.
    • The Governor-General in Council had the authority to amend, repeal, or alter any law or regulations for all persons (whether British, native, or foreigners) and places in the British Indian territories.
    • All the financial and administrative powers were also centralized in the hands of the Governor-General in Council.
    • The Governor-General, with his Executive Council, controlled the civil, military, and revenue matters.

Established the first Law Commission of India

  • The Charter Act of 1833 provided for the establishment of the Law Commission of India.
    • The first Indian Law Commission was set up in 1834 with Lord Macaulay as its Chairman. The other three members were: J. M. Madeira, G. W. Anderson, and C. H. Cameron, representing the presidencies of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, respectively.
    • The objective of the first Law Commission was to codify and consolidate all Indian Laws.
    • The Act provided that all laws made in India were to be placed before the British Parliament and were to be known as Acts.
    • Therefore, the laws made under the previous Acts were known as Regulations, while laws made under this Act were known as Acts.

Included the 4th Member in Governor-General’s Council

  • The 1833 Charter Act added the 4th member in the Governor-General in Council as a Law Member for professional advice on law-making.
    • The fourth member had limited powers. He was not entitled to act as a member of the council except for legislative purposes.
    • Lord Macaulay became the first Law Member in the Governor-General in Council.

Provision to end Slavery in India

  • The Charter Act of 1833 also provided for the mitigation of slavery existing in India at that time.
    • The Act directed the Governor-General-in-Council to adopt measures for the end of slavery persisting in India.
    • Slavery was abolished in India in 1843 with the Indian Slavery Act 1843 (also known as Act V of 1843).

Open competition for selection of Civil Servants

  • The Charter Act of 1833 reversed the policy of racial discrimination in public services. It was the first Act that permitted Indians to have a share in the administration of the country.
  • The Act attempted to introduce a system of open competition for selecting civil servants.
    • The Act categorically stated that Indians should not be debarred from holding any office or employment under the Company based on religion, colour, birth, descent, etc.
  • However, this provision was not effectively implemented due to fierce opposition from the Court of Directors.

Control of Saint Helena Island

  • The Act transferred the control of the island of Saint Helena from the East India Company to the British Crown, therefore, also known as the Saint Helena Act of 1833.

Lifted restriction on the European immigration

  • Charter Act 1833 also lifted all the restrictions on European immigration and the acquisition of property in India. Thus, the British were allowed to settle freely in India.

Split in Bengal Presidency

  • The Charter Act 1833 also provided for the Presidency of Bengal to split into the Presidencies of Agra and Fort Willaim. However, this provision never came into effect.

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