Charter Act of 1853 – UPSC

The Charter Act of 1853 was the last of a series of Charter Acts passed by the British Parliament between 1793 and 1853 to renew the charter issued to the East India Company. However, for the first time, the 1853 Charter Act did not specify the time duration for the renewal of the Company’s charter, unlike the previous Charter Acts of 1793, 1813, and 1833 renewed the Company’s charter for 20 years. Lord Dalhousie was the Governor-General of India during the enactment of this Act.

Provisions of the Charter Act of 1853

Expansion of Governor-General’s Office

  • The Law member (fourth member) of the Governor-General Executive Council became a full member with the right to vote.
  • The Act, for the first time, separated the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council.
    • In other words, the Charter Act 1853 set up a separate Governor-General’s legislative council, which came to be known as the Indian (Central) Legislative Council.
    • It provided for the addition of 6 new members called legislative councilors to the council for legislative purposes. The Legislative Council now had a total of 12 members.
    • These 12 members were:
      • Governor-General,
      • Commander-in-Chief,
      • Four members of the Governor-General’s Council,
      • Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Calcutta,
      • One regular Judge at the Supreme Court at Calcutta,
      • Four representative members were drawn from among the Company’s servants with at least ten years tenure, appointed by the local governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras, and North-Western Provinces.
    • The Governor-General could nominate the vice-president of the council.
    • This legislative wing of the council functioned as a mini-Parliament, adopting the same procedures as the British Parliament.
  • Therefore, for the first time, the legislation was treated as a Special function of the government, requiring special machinery and process.
  • The Governor-General’s assent was needed for all legislative proposals. The Governor-General could also veto any Bill of the Legislative Council.

Introduction of Local Representation in the Legislative Council

  • The Act, for the first time, introduced local representation in the Indian Legislative Council.
    • Out of the six new legislative members of the Governor-General’s Council, four members were appointed by the local/provincial governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras, and Agra.

Reduce the strength of the Court of Directors

The Charter Act 1853 reduced the number of Court of Directors from 24 to 18. Out of these eighteenth, the six people were to be nominated by the British Crown.

Power with respect to the Presidency

  • By the Charter Act of 1853, the Court of Directors now had the power to constitute a new Presidency. The reason was because of the difficulties faced in administering the increasingly large Indian territories of Britain.
    • Since 1833, the two new provinces of Sindh and Punjab were added.
    • The Court of Directors could also appoint a Lieutenant Governor for these provinces. In 1859, Lieutenant Governor was appointed for Punjab.
    • The Charter Act 1853 also led to the formation of Assam, Burma, and Central Province.

Separate Governor for Bengal Presidency

  • The Charter Act of 1853 provided for the appointment of a separate Governor for the Bengal Presidency.
  • The Act also maintained that the Governor of Bengal should be different from the Governor-General. The Governor-General was to be the head of the administration of the whole of British India.
  • However, till the appointment of Governor of Bengal was made, the Act authorized the Court of Directors and Board of Control to appoint a Lieutenant Governor for Bengal. Therefore, the Lieutenant Governor was appointed for Bengal in 1854, but no Governor was appointed for Bengal till 1912.

Open Competition System

  • The Charter Act of 1853 deprived the Court of Directors of its right of Patronage to the appointment in civil services.
  • The Act introduced an open system of selection and recruitment of civil servants.
  • Therefore, the Covenanted Civil Services was thrown open to the Indians also. The appointment to the civil service was to be done only by open competition based on merit.
  • Accordingly, the Committee on Indian Civil Services under Lord Macaulay, also known as Macaulay Committee, was appointed in 1854.

Company’s rule in India

  • The Charter Act 1853 extended the East India Company’s rule and allowed to retain the possession of British Indian territories on the trust for the British Crown.
  • But, this Act did not specify any particular period, unlike the previous Charter Acts. It was a clear indication that the Company’s rule could be terminated at any time the British Parliament liked.

Leave a Comment