Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit: Evolution of Indian Administration: Legacy of British rule in politics and administration

Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit (Paper - II)

Evolution of Indian Administration: Legacy of British rule in politics and administration

The present administrative system in India was evolved during the East India Company’s rule in the country. This period will be divided into two parts for study purposes. First, the East India Company’s rule upto 1857 and second, the British government rule from 1858 up to 1947. The East India Company came to India for purely business purposes, but later took over the government of the country. The end of the company rule came in 1858 with the taking over of the government by the British Crown. These are some of the very important evolutionary steps in the administrative history of India. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mugha1 empire began to disintegrate and the central administration became paralysed. The small rulers who earlier accepted the suzerainty of Mughal emperors, started fighting among themselves. The East India Company took advantage of this situation and established its hold over several parts of the country. The battle of Plassey in 1757 paved the way for the real authority in the hand of the Company.’

The East India Company in the year 1765 secured the Diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, but it did not change the administration of these provinces and mainly continued the administrative system of the Mughals. However, the British wanted to reduce the exploitation of the people of these provinces by the ‘Zamindars’ and other intermediaries. Therefore, they established rapport with the people through their own officers and this led to the establishment, in stages of the modern system of district administration. In 1772 they appointed ‘Supervisors’ in each bigger district, who were later nominated as ‘Collectors’ by Warren Hastings in 1772. The Board of Directors of the Company in 1786 directed the Governor-General in Council to place all the districts under Collectors. These collectors were responsible for collection of land revenue, dispensation of civic justice and magisterial work, etc. This office is a most significant one, even today. In the year 1829, Divisional Commissioners were appointed in Bengal to supervise the administration of a group of districts and this was the beginning of the Divisional Commissioner system, which is still in vogue in present states. Four years after receiving the ‘diwani; the conferment of which did not ‘ipso facto’, make the company a sovereign authority in Bengal. Bihar and Orissa but which led the way to exercise of such authority, it did not make any move in respect of organizing the government which was now in a state of virtual collapse. But from 1769 onwards, the Company started making experiments in this regard. At first, they proved to be not only ineffectual but also almost disastrous. By 1786, however, it appeared to have groped its way into the right direction. But even then further experiments had to be made to make the structure efficient and well organised and the administration stable and strong. Though the Company had control over some of the Indian provinces, the administration was unstable and not so good. The result was the passing of various Acts by the British Government.

For the purpose of study of the evolution of the Indian administrative system during this period, we shall divide it into the following two periods:

1. Administrative system before 1858. and
2. Administrative system after 1858 upto 1947.

The year 1773 was a landmark in the growth of Indian Administration. Before 1773 there was no central authority in the country. The 1773 Act restricted the powers of the presidencies from making war or treaties without the sanction of the Governor-General in Council. This confirmed the British Parliament’s control over East India Company’s affairs. The Pitt’s India Act of 1784 placed Indian Affairs under the direct control of the British Government, by establishing a Board of Control representing the British Cabinet, over the court of Directors. The Court of Directors of the East India Company were required to pay due obedience (and be) governed and .... bound by such orders as they shall from time to time. receive from the said board.” The appointment of Governor-General was made by the directors with the approval of the Crown. The position of the Governor-General became very difficult with the introduction of the system of dual control. This system with some modifications remained in operation till 1858. As a result the Company’s administration became not only cumbersome but also dilatory.

The Company’s rule ended with the enactment of the Government of India, Act, 1858 and passed on to the Crown. The Board of Control and the Court of Directors, both were abolished and their powers were given to the newly created office of the Secretary of State for India. His office was known as India office which enabled him to discharge his functions smoothly.

Portfolio System

The government’s work increased and its pressure was felt by the successive governorgenerals. Inordinate delay became unavoidable. This situation improved when the innovation known as portfolio system was introduced in 1859 by Lord Canning. According to this innovation, a member of the Council would be appointed in charge of one or more departments of the government by Governor-General and he would issue orders on behalf of the Governor-General- In-Council. The Act of 1861 Section 8 gave statutory recognition to this innovation. Where any other department was concerned, it was also consulted: the finance department would advise on matters relating to finance and expenditure, so also the home department for matters relating to the services of the general administration or internal politics. If the concerned department did not agree, the matter was referred to the Governor-General. Every important matter of any department, as well as where it was proposed to overrule any local (Provincial) government, reference to the Governor-General was necessary. The Portfolio system, in the first place increased efficiency and speed of the government work. Second, the members of the council were recognized as heads of their departments and had greater degree of initiative and responsibility in the working of the departments.

The Act of 1861 enlarged the Executive Council of the Governor General by adding a fifth as the law member and he was given power: to conveniently transact the business. This Act tried to render the Executive Government too strong to be handicapped by any expansion of the legislature and restored the legislative powers of the local governments without affecting central control. The Act of 1870 also empowered the governor general to suspend such measures of resolutions of the Councils which may have the interest of British possessions in India. The Indian Council Act of 1892 enlarged the function and members, of the legislative Councils, but not implemented in toto. Two fifths of the additional members were to be non-officials. The Act also introduced the principle of election in an indirect manner. Although the Act did not provide for direct election, the mode of indirect election produced a result which turned the balance of power against the landed aristocracy and placed legal Practioner in the dominant position. The Act of 1909, popularly known as the Morley-Minto Reforms. carried the above policy further. The Act increased the size of the legislative councils at all levels. They still remained deliberative bodies only. The indirect election system continued but for the first time separate representation was given for the Muslims.

Introduction of Local Self-Government

In 1688 a corporation in Madras was established. In 1726 Calcutta and Bombay corporations were created. In the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay, ancient village system of rural self-government agency was retained and in the 19th Century, Panchayats received encouragement from district authorities.

The Government of India resolution 1864 admitted the desirability of the local people’s capability to run the local affairs. A further step in the direction of local self-government was taken by Lord Mayo in 1870, popularly known as Mayo Resolution of 1870. As a result New Municipal Acts were passed in various provinces between 1871 and 1874 to relieve the burden on imperial finances by levying local rates and cesses and also extended the elective principle. The next important step was taken during the viceroyalty of Ripon, who has been called the ‘father of local selfgovernment in India.'

In 1882, the famous Ripon Resolution for local self Government was issued which continueud to influence the development of local government in India, till 1947. The resolution said. “It is only primarily with a view to improvement in administration that this measure is being put forward and supported, it is desirable as an instrument of political and popular education.” The result was enactment of series of Municipal Acts and enactments for rural areas.

The Decentralisation Commission in its report of 1909, emphasised the importance of Village Panchayats and recommended the adoption of special measures for their revival and growth. It also recommended the lessening of government control over local bodies and augmenting the sources of income of these bodies ; but neither the government of India nor the provincial governments faithfully carried out the Ripon’s Resolution.

The Montague-Chelmsford Report on constitutional Reforms (1918) examined the system of local self-government prevalent in the country and stated that local bodies would be made autonomous and outside control would be minimal.

Administrative Reforms of 1919

The Government of India Act, 1919 introduced the bicameral system and demarcated the central and provincial subjects. The central list consisted of important subjects such as defence, foreign affairs, tariff and customs,
railways, post and telegraphs, income tax, currency and coinage, all India services, etc. The Provincial list included local self-government, public health, public works, education, water supply, irrigation, agriculture, land revenue, police, forests, justice, excise & fisheries, etc. The Provincial subjects were further divided into “resolved” and “transferred” subjects. The ‘reserved’ subject being important, were placed under the charge of counsellors, who along with governor were made responsible to the Secretary of State and the Central legislature. The administration of “transferred” subjects was entrusted to the ministers responsible to the Provincial Legislative Council. The distribution of executive power between the governor-generalin- council and the governor acting on the advice of his ministers responsible to the provincial legislative council was called dyarchy. This reform reduced the control of Secretary of State for India, over the central and provincial administration so far as the “transferred” subjects were concerned; but as regards “reserved” subjects, there had been no change. This Act was a step to provide opportunity to Indians to take charge of departments of Provincial administration, not as nominated ones but as the elected leaders of legislatures. This new scheme was based on three principles. First, the central and provincial spheres were demarcated and distinguished from each other. Second, the provinces were considered to be the most suitable for experiment of selfgovernment. Third, an attempt was made to give an effective voice to the people in the conduct of the Central Government.

Administrative Reforms of 1935

The Government of India Act, 1935 had two basic concepts: one Provincial autonomy and the other, an all India federation. In the structure of the Home Government, some changes were made. The Indian Council was dissolved and to take its place, there was to be a set of advisers to the Secretary of State for India, whose number was fixed between three and six. The Secretary of State had the right to consult these advisers individually
or collectively. The Act provided for the introduction of dyarchy at the centre, whereas the system of dyarchy in the provinces, was abolished. The federal executive was made partly responsible to the federal legislature. The executive councillors were put in charge of defence, external affairs, ecclesiastical affairs and tribal affairs and were responsible to the Governor-General and not to the federal legislature. The governor General would
interfere in the work of the remaining subjects in  the federal legislature, on the ground that it affected the discharge of his special responsibilities. But this was never done as the scheme could not be operated.

Under the federal set-up, the subjects were divided into three lists, viz., the Federal, Provincial and Concurrent list. In the Federal list there were 59 subjects of administration related to the centre. The Provincial list had 54 items related to the provincial government. The Concurrent list consisting of 36 subjects was common for the central and provincial governments. These provisions of the Act at the central level could not be implemented, but at the provincial level, these were introduced in 1937.

Inspite of the failure of the federal provisions of, the Act, the Government of India continued its working under the provisions of the Act of 1919 with certain modifications, till the Indian Independence Act of 1947 came into force. In Britain, the Labour Party came to power after the 1945 elections and initiated a new approach. The imprisoned Indian leaders were set free; elections were held to the central and provincial legislatures;
and popular ministries were restored in the provinces.

The famous Cabinet Mission Plan was published on May 16, 1946. An interim government was formed in 1946, With Jawaharlal Nehru as its Vice-President. The Muslim League initially declined to join the Interim government but later agreed. Further, elections were held to the Constitutional Assembly which met at Delhi in December 1946, but the Muslim League boycotted it, in March Mountbatten was appointed Governor-
General and in June, he formulated his scheme for the partition of the country. On 18th July, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, 1947 and at mid-night on 15th August 1947. India became a free nation. The new constitution was adopted on 26th January, 1950.


India became independent in August 1947 with the end of the British rule. A new Constitution was framed and adopted on January 26. 1950 and India became a republic. The pertinent question is what was the new republic like, and what was handed over by Britishers along with the power’? The answer of these questions can be found easily during the period Britishers governed the country by establishing various institutions. Though Indians were very happy to get rid of the colonial rule it was soon realised that the governmental system and administrative apparatus developed by the Britishers was capable of meeting all the needs of the country, therefore, the same administrative system was maintained even after independence, of course, with some changes as per the requirements of the time. The main features of the British governmental and administrative system,
like parliamentary form of government. federal structure, governors in the states, secretariat system, central and state administration. Civil Services, District and Regional administration, the procedures of work, Rule of law, and Local government, etc. continue to be the main points of the present Indian administrative system.

Federal Structure

The federal structure of the Indian Constitution has its roots in the Government of India Act of 1935. The Constitutional history of India shows, that the Act of 1919 mentioned ‘transferred’ subjects which were entrusted to
ministers of provinces accountable to elected provincial legislatures, and ‘reserved’ subjects meant for officials under the Governors. Thus, a ‘dyarchy’ system was the main characteristic of the Act of 1919, sowing the seeds of division of subjects between provinces and centre. The Government of India Act 1935, added three contributions to the political development in the country: these were: first, it established a full responsible government in the provinces, second, it contained a list of division of powers between provinces and the centre, third, it established a Federal Court. The Act of 1935 provided in its 451 clauses, a model for the Indian Constitution of 1950. Thus, the type of federation we have adopted in our Constitution, is a British legacy.


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