Pitt’s India Act of 1784 – UPSC

To correct the defects of the Regulating Act of 1773, the British Parliament passed another Act in 1784, known as the Pitt’s India Act 1784 (or the East India Company Act 1784). This Act gave the British government supreme control over the East India Company’s affairs and administration in India. The Act was named after the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at that time.

The Pitts India Act established the dual control on British possessions in India by the British government and the East India Company, with the final authority resting with the government. This Act remained in effect until 1858.

Table of Contents

Provisions of the Pitts India Act 1784

  • The Act reduced the members of the Governor-General Executive Council from 4 to 3 members, including the Commander-in-Chief of the British army in India. Now the Governor-General, along with one member, carried out the decision in Executive Council. Therefore, the Act provided the Governor-General of Bengal the right to vote in the Executive Council.
  • The powers of Governors of Bombay and Madras presidencies were further reduced and made subordinate to the Governor-General of Bengal in matters related to war, revenue, and diplomacy. Moreover, Calcutta became the capital of British possessions in India.
  • This Act laid out clearly that it is contrary to the British Policy to have any territorial ambitions in India. It aligned with the Policy of Ring Fence, i.e., the British Government had to remain within its Ring Fence and not interfere in the affairs of the Native states in India.
  • The Pitts India Act separated the commercial and political functions of the Company. The Act allowed the Court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs but created a new body called the Board of Control to manage the political affairs.
  • Therefore, it set up a dual system of control, in which the Company got represented by the Court of Directors and the British Government represented by the Board of Control.
  • The Board of Control consist of 6 members:
    • Secretary of State (Board President)
    • Chancellor of the Exchequer
    • Four Privy Councillors.
  • They were also known as Commissioners for the affairs in India.
  • The Board of Control guided and controlled the work of the Court of Directors and the Government of India. The Act empowered the Board of Control to supervise and direct all operations of the civil and military affairs or revenues of the British possessions in India.

Significance of the Act

  • For the first time, the Company’s territories in India were called the British Possessions in India.
  • The Act gave the British government direct control over the Company’s affairs and its administration in India.
  • The Act distinguished between the commercial and political activities of the East India Company.
  • The Act established the authority of the British Crown in the civil and military administration of its Indian territories.

Supplementary Act of 1786

In 1786, Lord Cornwallis became the second Governor-General of Bengal. He wanted to have the powers of both Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief. The British government passed the Supplementary Act of 1786, which laid out that:

  • Under this Act, the Governor-General of Bengal was given the authority to overrule his Executive Council in matters of importance affecting the peace, safety, or the interests of the British Empire in India.
  • This Act provided the Governor-General to assume the office of Commander-in-Chief of the British army during the war emergency.

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