IGNOU HISTORY Study Notes for IAS, UPSC Exams

 Modern India 1857-1964


17.0 Objectives
17.1 Introduction
17.2 Background
17.3 The Indian Councils Act. 1892
17.3.1 Need for Constitutional Changes
17.3.2 Main Provisions of the Act
17.4, Morley-Minto Reforms
17.4.1 Need for Constitutional Changes
17.4.2 Changes in the Composition of Legislative Bodies
17.4.3 Changes in l5inqtions
17.5 ~ontagu-Chelmsfbrd Reforms
17.5.1 Circumstances Leading to Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
17.5.2 Changes in the Central Government
17.5.3 Changes in the Provincial Government
17.5.4 Observations on the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
17.6 Let Us Sum Up
17.7 Key Words
1.7.8 Answers to Check Your Progress Exercises


The purpose of this unit is to introduce you to the main stages in the evolution of legislative bodies in India between 1892 and 1919. After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • trace the growth in size and functions of legislative bodies during this period,
  • learn about the factors which prompted the British to introduce these changes, and
  • appreciate the relationship between the struggle for freedom and growth of these bodies.


The British introduced certain constitutional reforms. This Unit discusses the factors which led to the passing of the Indian Councils Act of 1892. The main provisions of the act as - well as its achievements and limitations have been dealt with. It further refers to the background of the Morley-Minto (1909) and Montagu-Chelmsford (1919) Reforms and also discusses the changes these reforms introduced in the various organs of the Government. Finally the weaknesses and achievements of the reforms have been pointed out to enable you to arrive at an objective analysis.


Under the Charter Act of 1833 a fourth member, known as the Law Me$ber, was added to the Executive Council of the Governor-General. He was entitled to sit and vote in the Council of the Governor-General only when it met for legislative purposes. Thus for the first time a separation was introduced between the Executive and legislative functions of the Central Government. not her change introduced by this Act was that the Presidency Governments were deprived of their independent legislative power. Twenty years later, in 1853, another Charter Act was passed under which the Law Member was given full rank as a Member of the Council of the Governor-General. At the same time, the distinction between the Council of the Governor-General as an Executive and as a Years-I Legislative body became more marked because the size of this Council for legislative purposes was increased by including six 'Additional Members'. They were all salaried officials, fpur represented the three Presidencies and the Government of the North-Westem province (roughly Western half of present day U.P.) and two were judges. The Act styled such members as Legislative Councillors. The proposal to add non-official members, either European or Indian, was not accepted.

The Legislative Council had, in 1854, laid down an elaborate procedure for the transaction - of business. In addition to making laws, it became a body for inquiring into various grievances. Moreover, the provincial governments resented the centralisation of the law making process. The Revolt of 1857, however, provided an urgent reason for British Government's desire to make further changes in the set-up. It was felt that a major cause of the revolt was lack of contact and understanding between Indians and the authorities. An Act known as the Indian Councils Act was passed in 1861 which reflected this thinking. For purposes of legislation, the Governor-General's Council was reinforced by Additional members, not less than six and not more than twelve in number to be nominated by the Governor-General and holding office for two years. An important innovation was introduced by providing that, of these Additional Members, not less than one half were to be non-officials, i.e. persons not in the Civil or military service of the Crown. Under this provision three Indians were usually nominated. Further, the functions of the Council for Legislative purposes were confined strictly to legislation. The Act also restored to the Governments of Bombay and Madras the power of legislation and provided for the establishment of Legislative Councils in other provinces. Such Councils were established in Bengal in 1862, Punjab in 1886 and the North Western Province in 1887.

For the first twenty years the power to nominate the non-official members was used as a means of distributing official patronage. Only Princes, their divans or big landholders were nominated and amongst these too, only those who had helped the British during the Revolt of 1857-58: Still the decision to nominate non-officials was significant. It amounted to a tacit recognition that Indian opinion was worth listening to, that theBritish officials were not the best interpreters of the wishes of Indians and that not even an authoritarian colonial government could work in &mplete seclusion.


Now we will discuss the reasons which prompted the British to pass the Indian Councils Act of 1892, the chief characteristics of the Act, its shortcomings and achievements would also be analysed.


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    Courtesy: eGyanKosh