In this article, we will understand in very simple and easy language that how the events of pre-independence gave shape to the India and Indian constitution.
So definitely read this entire article till the end, hope you will get to understand a lot of new things with full concept.
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More than 70 percent of the constitution of our country has been taken from the Government of India Act 1935 and apart from this many other important provisions have been taken from countries like America, Russia, Ireland, South Africa, Japan Germany etc.
Whatever provision was there in the Government of India Act 1935, it has taken hundreds of years to reach there.
By reading this article, you will be able to understand how systems take shape and how the pre-independence events shaped the India and Indian Constitution;
| How did the pre-independence events shape India & Indian Constitution?
As we know, when the British who came to India for the purpose of trading won the Battle of Buxar in 1764, they got the Diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
That is, now he could run the activities related to revenue and civil justice of this area according to his own. And in this way the company rule started on India and it started making its own rules and regulations.
The Company’s rule over India lasted till 1857 and after that from 1858 to the year 1947, the governance shifted from the Company to the British Crown.
A lot happened during the reign of both of them which left a deep impact on our constitution and monarchy. what happened? Let us understand it sequentially (first the rule of the Company and then the rule of the Crown);
| Company rule [from 1773 to 1858]
| Regulating Act 1773
As we mentioned above, after getting the right of revenue and civil justice, the company was on cloud nine. It was like an opportunity for the British government.
Since the Company was a trading body it had no experience of running the administration in that way. In such a situation, in 1773, the British Government took steps towards regulating and controlling the activities of the East India Company through the Regulating Act.
and recognized for the first time the administrative and political functions of the Company. And thus laid the foundation of central administration in India.
The main work done by this act was something like this;
- By this Act, the Governor of Bengal was given the title of ‘Governor General’ of Bengal and for his assistance. A four-member Executive Council was formed.
Remember this change here because this system will later take the form of the Central Legislative Council. Well the first Governor General was Warren Hastings.
- By this the Governors of Madras and Bombay became subordinate to the Governor General of Bengal, while earlier the Governors of all the Presidencies were separate from each other.
- Under this Act, a Supreme Court was established in Calcutta in 1774, consisting of a Chief Justice and three other judges. You can consider the beginning of the court system that we see in India today.
This court was so powerful that appeal against its decision could be made only in the Privy Council in England. Sir Elijah Impey was made the first Chief Justice of this court.
|Privy Council – The Privy Council, (officially Her Majesty’s Most Honourable), is a formal body of advisors to the sovereign of the United Kingdom. Its membership consists mainly of senior politicians who are current or former members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords.|
- Under this act, the employees of the company were banned from doing private business and taking gifts and bribes from Indian people.
Overall, by this act, the British Government’s control over the Company through the ‘Court of Directors’ (i.e. the governing body of the Company) was strengthened. And with this it was made necessary for the Company to report revenue, civil and military matters to the British Government.
The East India Regulating Act of 1773 and Pitt’s India Act, 1784 both limited the powers of the shareholders on the Court of Directors.
Their control was transferred to a parliamentary committee called the Control Board. The Court of Directors had 24 members, they were personally elected for 4-year terms.
The Court of Directors was abolished under the Charter Act of 1853 and the services were now open to a competitive examination.
Facts to Remember About Warren Hastings
- The post of District Collector was created by Lord Warren Hastings in 1772.
- The credit for making the court is given to Warren Hastings only.
However, till that time criminal and civil matters were generally settled with the help of personal law. But for the first time after 1772, the criminal cases of Hindus were brought under the court system. [Muslims were allowed to follow their own criminal personal law (Sharia).]
After 1780 gradually all (Hindu, Muslim and others) were brought in criminal cases. But civil matters were still allowed to be governed by personal law.
[understand in detail – Distinction between District and Sessions Court and Civil and Criminal matters]
| Pitt’s India Act of 1784
After running the governance system under Regulating Act for about 10 years, another act was brought in 1784, which was named Pitt’s India Act. This Act was brought to remove the shortcomings of the Regulating Act 1773. The main things that were said under this are as follows;
- Under this act the political and commercial functions of the Company were separated. That is, the business functions of the company were separated from the governance system.
To manage the affairs of governance, a new body called the Board of Control was constituted. In which there were 6 members.
While the management of business affairs continued to be done by the Board of Directors (Court of Directors).
Thus, the diarchy was started. You can see this by linking it to today’s separation of powers. Gradually, this system will continue to take shape.
- The Board of Control had the power to superintend and control all civil, military government and revenue activities in British controlled India.
- The strength of the Governor-General’s Council was reduced to three members (from the earlier four). One of the three was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Crown’s forces in India.
Overall, this act proved to be important for the British government because for the first time the territories under the Company in India were called “British possessions”; This is because by this Act the British Government was given complete control over the Company’s affairs and its administration in India.
| charter acts
From 1793, the period of Charter Act started, which continued till 1853. Coming to the Charter of 1793, it was significant in that it extended the Company’s trading rights in India for another 20 years. And it was made mandatory to stay in India for at least 12 years to become Governor General or Governor.
| Charter Act of 1813
Similarly, if we talk about the Charter Act of 1813, its main points are as follows,
(1) Under this also the trading rights of the Company were extended for 20 more years.
(2) Except for the monopoly of the Company on tea and sugar, the monopoly of the Company was abolished in all other commodities. This simply meant that now other companies could also come to do business in India.
(3) Under this charter, Christian missionaries were allowed to propagate religion in India.
Overall, as you go further into the Charter Act, you will notice how the British Crown tries to replace the Company’s monopoly with its own.
| Charter Act of 1833
The Charter Act of 1833 is very important because many important changes took place under it,
By 1833, almost the whole of India had come under the jurisdiction of the British Government or rather the company. In such a situation, the time had now come when the direction of centralization could be moved forward. And this was also done.
The Charter Act of 1833 was brought keeping this in mind. You can see this by linking it to today’s centralized government. The main arrangements brought under this are as follows;
- The Act made the Governor General of Bengal the Governor General of India, with all civil and military powers vested in him. And thus a government was formed that had complete control over the entire Indian territory under British occupation.
How much power has come to the Governor General of India can be gauged from the fact that the legislative power which was earlier enjoyed by the Governors of Madras and Bombay was taken away from him and given to the Governor General of India.
That is, the Governor General of India was given unlimited powers of legislature in the whole of British India. Lord William Bentinck became the first Governor General of India.
- By this act the activities of the East India Company as a trading body were terminated and it was made a purely administrative body.
The meaning of saying is that the company is no longer the company that came to do business, but now it has become a ruling class. In 1813, the Company, which had got a monopoly on trade in tea and sugar, was also abolished by this act.
- Another important work that was started under this act was the attempt to start organizing open competition for the selection of civil servants. That is, it was the first act which allowed Indians to take part in the administration of the country.
At present, our civil service system which is competition based, you can accept its beginning from here. Although this provision was struck down at that time due to opposition from the Court of Directors, it was reintroduced by the Charter Act of 1853.
- By this Act it was made clear that no Indian living in the Company’s territories shall be denied any post in the Company for which he is eligible, merely on grounds of religion, race, color or place of birth, etc. [Today we can see the same thing in Article 16 which is a fundamental right]
Two-three important things were done under this charter, that was;
(1) Constitution of Law Commission; Whose job was to codify the laws. Lord Macaulay was the first president.
The Law Commission is special because for the first time this commission recommended the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code.
However, IPC was implemented in 1860 and CrPC in 1861. After India got independence, IPC is still running today and talking about CrPC, it was re-implemented in 1973.
After this, three more law commissions were formed. Who made some such methods which are still in existence today. [All these are discussed further.]
Another thing to be understood here is that any law made in India was now to be placed before the British Parliament and it was to be called an ‘Act’. Even today, we call the law passed by the Parliament as Act or Act.
- This act legalized the British colonization of the country.
(2) One thing was said under this charter that no Indian who is eligible to work on any post in the company will be denied to work only on the basis of religion, race, place of birth and color.
If you have read Article 16 which comes under the fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution, then you can see the similarity between the two. However, what was said in this charter never happened.
(3) The members of the Governor General’s Council were reduced to three by the Pitt’s India Act 1784, which was again increased to four.
- However, the fourth member had only limited powers. And this fourth member was none other than Lord Macaulay.
- For the first time the Governor-General’s government was called the Government of India and the Council was called the Council of India.
| Charter Act of 1853
By 1853, distrust and opposition to the Company had set in, so it proved to be the last of a series of Charter Acts passed by the British Parliament from 1793 to 1853.
This was the last because there was a revolution in 1857 and then the Company’s rule came to an end. Yet this act was very special in some ways, was it? Let’s see;
- This act for the first time separated the legislative and administrative functions of the Governor General’s Council. And with this, six new councilors were added to the Council, which was called Legislative Councilor.
In other words, it constituted a new legislative council for the Governor General, called the Indian (Central) Legislative Council. This branch of the council functioned like a mini-parliament. The same procedures were adopted in this, which were adopted in the British Parliament. (You can see the foundation of today’s parliament being laid from here)
- The Law Member (i.e. the fourth member) was also made a full member with voting rights.
You will remember how in 1833 all legislative powers were given to the Governor General of India. But here the administrative functions were separated from it.
Overall, from here you can see the separation of governance and administration, which we can see even today in our governance system.
- It introduced the system of open competition for the recruitment and selection of civil servants, which was discontinued in 1833. Mr. Macaulay played a very important role behind this.
- The Macaulay Committee of 1854 gave India its first civil service. The appointment was to be made by open competition only on the basis of merit and was open to all.
This act introduced local representation in the Indian Central Legislative Council for the first time. Of the six new members in the Governor-General’s Council, four were to be elected by the local provincial governments of Bengal, Madras, Bombay and Agra. You will see more and more local representation going forward and decentralization as well.
It extended the rule of the Company indefinitely, unlike previous Charter Acts. Thus, it could be acquired by the British Government at any time.
This act further reduced the influence of the Company. The Board of Directors now had 6 members who were nominated by the British Crown.
It gave rise to the Indian Civil Services and was open to all including Indians. It abolished the system of appointments by recommendation and introduced a system of open and fair competition.
For the first time, local representation was introduced in the Legislative Council in the form of four members from the local governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras and the North Western Provinces.
In the year 1853 itself, the second Law Commission was formed under the chairmanship of Sir John Romilly. And it was he who recommended the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) or Civil Procedure Code in his report.
In the year 1861, the third Law Commission was constituted and it was also headed by John Romilly. IPC, CrPC and CPC all three came into existence under his chairmanship.
| Crown rule [from 1858 to 1947]
As we have discussed above, there was a huge revolution in 1857 which is also known as the Great Revolution. A lot changed because of this revolution.
The East India Company came to an end, revenue powers were transferred to the British monarchy and direct rule by the Crown (Queen Victoria) began.
The Government of India Act 1858 was the culmination of this. Let us understand what changes were brought about by this act;
| Government of India Act 1858
- The designation of the Governor General of India was changed to Viceroy of India. This Viceroy was none other than the direct representative of the British Crown. That is, the British Crown started ruling India directly with the help of the Viceroy. Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India.
- Since the East India Company was now abolished, the Board of Control and the Court of Directors were also abolished. And in this way the diarchy which started under Pitt’s India Act 1784 ended here.
But an organization was going to be needed for controlling and monitoring, for this a new agency was established. A new post, the Secretary of State for India, was created; In which the power of complete control over the Indian administration was vested. This secretary was a member of the British cabinet and was ultimately responsible to the British Parliament.
This secretary was not alone but a 15-member council was formed to assist this India secretary, which was an advisory committee. The President of the Council was made the Secretary of India.
- Through the Secretary of State, the British Parliament could ask questions regarding Indian affairs.
Overall, the main objective of the Act of 1858 was to improve the administrative machinery, so that there could be superintendence and control of the Indian government in England.
Remember here that no special change was made in the prevailing system of governance in India by this act.
That is, the system of governance is almost the old system that was established by the Charter Act; Continued on the basis of Which proved to be insufficient, so it was significantly changed in 1861, 1892 and 1909; Let’s understand what changes were brought: –
| Indian Council Act of 1861
In fact, the Great Revolution of 1857 made the British government realize that if there is no cooperation of Indians in the governance system, then it can be very difficult to run the governance system. The result of this trouble of the British was the Indian Councils Act of 1861, 1892 and 1909 (Indian Councils Act – 1861).
Some important steps were taken under the Indian Council Act of 1861, which were as follows;
- This act introduced the involvement of Indian representatives in the law making process. In 1862 itself, Lord Canning nominated three Indians – the Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao to the Legislative Council.
- This act started the process of decentralization by returning legislative powers to Madras and Bombay Presidencies. This was the beginning of the process of decentralization because by the Charter Act of 1833, all the legislative powers were merged in the Governor General of India.
But by this Act, legislative powers were given to Madras and Bombay, as well as legislative councils were formed in Bengal, North-West Frontier Province and Punjab in 1862, 1866 and 1897 respectively. From here onwards you will slowly see how decentralization has increased further.
- This Act gave the Viceroy the power to issue ordinances in emergency without the recommendation of the Council. The duration of such ordinance was only six months.
- How important was the power to issue ordinance, you can guess from the fact that even today our President has the power to issue ordinance.
- The number of legislative council of the Governor General was increased. Now this council could have at least 6 and maximum 12 members. However, the Viceroy had the power to dissolve the Council if necessary.
Overall these were some of the important provisions brought through the Councils Act of 1861, further expanded under the Indian Councils Act of 1892.
| Indian Councils Act of 1892
The Indian National Congress (INC) was formed in 1885. And it started raising the demand for reforms in the Legislative Councils. Apart from this, the Congress also wanted the right to discuss financial matters, which was not allowed till now.
Through the Indian Council Act 1892, the number of additional (non-official) members in the Central and Provincial Legislative Councils was increased, although the majority remained official members.
- Permission was granted to keep up to 10 – 16 members in the Central Legislative Council.
- In Bengal: 20 members
- 20 members in Madras
- 8 members in Bombay
- 15 members in Awadh
- 15 members in North Western Province
The Viceroy had the power to nominate non-official members to the Central Legislative Council while the power to appoint non-official members to the Provincial Councils was given to the Governor.
- However, the governor could do this work on the recommendations of the district council, municipality, university, trade union, landlords and chamber of commerce.
Along with this, the functions of the council were also increased through this act and they were also given the power to question the budget and answer the questions of the executive. But for this he had to give 6 days notice. However, they could not ask supplementary questions.
Overall – the special feature of this Act was that it provided for a limited and indirect election for the appointment of non-official members to both the Central and Provincial Legislative Councils, although the word election was not used in the Act. .
This is because it was not a purely electoral system, some people were shortlisted by the district council, municipality or university and the governor chose the person of his choice. But still it can be called the initial stage of election or its fragrance. Because it was fully established in the next India Council Act. Which we are going to read next.
| Indian council act of 1909
The Indian council act 1909 is also known as the reform of Morley-Minto reform. (Remember here that at that time Lord Molley was the Secretary of State for India in England and Lord Minto was the Viceroy in India). This act was based on the report of the Sir Arundel Committee.
It introduced the system of elections for the first time, and increased the scope of the Legislative Councils.
This act is very important because many new changes were brought out under it. Which is something like this;
- Through this act, the size of the Central and Provincial Legislative Councils was significantly increased. Their number in the Central Council was increased from 16 to 60. Their number was not the same in the provincial legislative councils.
Despite this, however, an official majority was maintained in the Central Council, but a majority of non-official members were allowed in the provincial councils.
Apart from all this, the scope of the discussion work of the Legislative Councils was further increased. Where earlier councilors could ask questions on the budget, now they could put resolutions on the budget. That is to say, now members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, move motions on the budget, etc.
- Under this act, provision for communal representation was made for Muslims on the basis of separate elections. Under this, only Muslim voters could elect Muslim members. That is why Lord Minto is known as the father of communal elections.
The British got a lot of benefit from this system because it boosted their policy of division, but from the point of view of Indians what was good in this was the expansion of the electoral system.
Under this, apart from giving separate representation to Muslims, it also made provision for separate representation for Presidency Corporation, Chambers of Commerce, Universities and Landlords.
- It tried (for the first time) for the association of Indians with the executive councils of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was appointed as the Law Member. Two Indians were named to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
After this act comes the Government of India Act 1919 which was very comprehensive. Let us look at its important provisions;
| Government of India Act, 1919
The Government of India Act, 1919 is also called the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (Montagu was the Secretary of State for India, while Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India). Some things of this act are such that today they are in their highest form. what is that? Let’s see;
- Through this act, the lists of central and provincial subjects were identified and separated and the Central and Provincial Legislative Councils were empowered to legislate on the subjects of their respective lists.
- This system has become the identity of the federal system today, but remember that at that time the government was unitary and not federal.
Apart from this, the provincial subjects were again divided into two parts under this act – transferred and reserved.
The transferred subjects were ruled by the Governor and he used to rule with the help of those ministers who were responsible to the Legislative Council.
On the other hand, the governor used to rule the reserved subjects as well, but he used to rule this with the help of the Executive Council, which was not responsible to the Legislative Council.
This dual system of governance was called diarchy. However, this system was largely unsuccessful.
- For the first time, this act started the system of bicameralism and direct election in the country. Thus a bicameral system i.e. Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha was formed in place of the Indian Legislative Council. The Lok Sabha had 145 members while the Rajya Sabha had 60 members.
Its most important thing was that the majority of the members of both the Houses were elected through direct election. And under this law a limited number of people were given franchise on the basis of property, tax or education.
- Now you must be understanding that from where today’s Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have come and today’s voting system was not the same as it was before.
- For the first time people came to know about elections and this created political consciousness among the people. Some Indian women also got the right to vote for the first time.
- Muslims had already been granted separate electorates, under this act the principle of separate electorates was extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans on communal basis.
- By this act, a provision was made to set up a Public Service Commission, which was formed in 1926. Today’s Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is its highest form.
- Where earlier provinces could only discuss or bring resolutions on the budget, now with the help of this act they could prepare their own budget.
So overall, with the help of this act, decentralization was given a little more expansion and many new things came to the fore, although the revenue was still controlled by the center.
- It also created an office of the High Commissioner for India in London. Which is still working today.
A statutory commission was constituted under this act, whose task was to submit its report after ten years after examining this act. This commission was formed in 1927 under the chairmanship of John Simon. Who presented their report in 1930 and said something like this;
- It recommended diarchy, expansion of governments in the states, establishment of the Union of British India and continuation of the communal electoral system, etc.
Remember here that since all the members of the Simon Commission were British, it was boycotted.
The British government held three conferences with representatives of British India and the Indian princely states to consider the commission’s proposals. Which was called the Round Table Conference.
Based on the discussions held in this conference, a ‘White Paper’ was prepared, which was included in the Government of India Act, 1935 by the British Parliament with some amendments. What is Government of India Act 1935? Let us understand;
Government of India Act 1935
The Government of India Act 1935 was a long and detailed document. How long and detailed this document was, you can guess from the fact that it had 324 sections and 10 schedules. In a way it was like a constitution. Its special things were something like this;
- Under this, it was talked about the establishment of All India Union, in which the state and the princely state would be like a unit. Along with this, three lists were made and the subjects were divided.
These three lists were – the Union List (only the Center could legislate on this, 59 subjects were kept in it), the State List (only the States could make laws on this and 54 subjects were kept in it) and the Concurrent List (on this Both could make laws and 36 subjects were kept in it.) Apart from this, whatever residual powers were given to the Viceroy.
- Overall, you can see here that every effort was made to make India a union.
- However, this federal system never came into existence at that time as the princely states refused to join it.
- But today you can see the same arrangement. Today there is Union of India and three lists are also in existence.
- Under this act, the provincial diarchy system introduced in 1919 was abolished and provincial autonomy was emphasized.
In other words, it was made necessary for the Governor to act on the advice of the Ministers responsible to the State Legislative Councils. Although this system was started in 1937, it was abolished in 1939.
- As we discussed above, through this act, the diarchy system was abolished in the province, but it was said in this act to implement this system in the center. That is, dividing the subjects of the center into transferred and reserved subjects. But this provision could never be implemented.
- Bicameral system was introduced in six out of 11 states through this act – i.e. Vidhansabha and Vidhan Parishad. These states included Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, United Provinces and Assam.
- The interesting thing is that even today the bicameral system is applicable in almost the same number of states.
- Under this, the Council of Ministers was made responsible to the Legislature and the Legislature could pass a no-confidence motion. The Legislature could now ask questions to the Council of Ministers.
- Under this act, the communal representation system was expanded by arranging separate elections for Dalit castes, women and working class.
- This act expanded the franchise. About ten percent of the population got the right to vote. According to today, this is a very small number, but according to that time, it was a huge number.
- Under this, the Reserve Bank of India was established to control the currency and credit of the country. Which is still doing its work with the same name.
8, Provincial Public Service Commission and Joint Service Commission for two or more states were established under this act.
- The federal court was established in 1937 under this act. Which today we know by the name of Supreme Court.
- Remember here that under this act Burma (Myanmar) was separated from India and two states named Orissa and Sindh were created.
So after reading this entire episode, if you search for it in today’s India, everything will be easily found and you will realize that all the things are from the time of Britishers only. We are carrying his legacy even today.
Indian Independence Act 1947
The Indian Independence Act 1947 is the act under which two independent Dominion-sovereign nations of India and Pakistan were created by partitioning India.
However, on February 20, 1947, when British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that British rule in India would end on June 30, 1947. So there was no question of a divided India in this.
On this announcement, the Muslim League agitated and talked about the partition of India, which had already become an established demand in its territory.
Well that is what happened, on June 3, 1947, the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten presented a plan of partition, which was called the Mountbatten Plan. This plan was accepted by the Congress and the Muslim League. Thus the Indian Independence Act, 1947 was enacted and implemented.
As we know, under this act two independent Dominion-sovereign nations India and Pakistan were created. Thus ended the British rule in India.
Also, the post of Viceroy was abolished and replaced by the post of Governor-General in both Dominion States, appointed by the British Crown on the recommendation of the new nation’s cabinet.
That is why you will hear that the first Governor General of India after independence was Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and also the last one because after that the Constitution of India was prepared and the post of Governor General was abolished and replaced by the President.
Both the Dominion states were given the power to legislate to repeal British law, India repealed the Independence Act and the Government of India Act 1935 with the help of Article 395. But since this act came into force on January 26, 1950, it is said that India did not become independent on August 15, 1947, only the transfer of power took place.
The law of the British era that still exists today in India
After reading this much, you must have understood how the events of the past influenced the Indian Constitution and played a role in shaping it.
Now let us understand which are the laws which are still in operation today;
Civil Procedure Code (CPC) – It came into existence in 1859. It was amended in 1908, since then it is running like that.
Indian Penal Code (IPC) – It came into existence in 1860. And even today punishment is given under this penal law.
Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) – It came into existence in 1861. It was amended in the year 1973 and it is still going on.
Indian Evidence Act – It came into existence in the year 1872. It is still going on today for the process of gathering testimony and evidence.
Indian Contract Act – This also came into existence in 1872. It was brought in to regulate contracts or contracts etc.
The Oath Act – It came into force in 1873. It was amended in 1969 and continues to this day.
Special Marriage Act – It came into force in 1873. It was amended in 1954 and is still used to conduct court marriages.
Child Marriage Restraint Act – It came into force in 1929. This was known as the Sharda Act. It was revised in 1978 by the government of Morarji Desai. And then in 2006 it was abolished and the Prevention of Child Marriage Act was brought.
So all in all, many things or almost everything in today’s India looks like it is a remnant of British India. We tried to polish it to make it good according to the times but it still smells of British India.
So hope you must have understood how the pre-independence events shaped the constitution. It will be easy for you to understand the story of constitution making from here, so definitely read it. And connect with our social media handles.