Crown Rule (1858-1947)

The Sepoy mutiny prompted the British Parliament to end the activities of the EIC. Henceforth, powers of Indian government, territories and revenues were transferred to British crown. The acts passed during this time include:

  • It was also known as ‘Act for the Good government of India’
  • It ended the Dual government scheme initiated due to Pitt’s India act
  • The powers of the Company’s Court of Directors were transferred to the Secretary of State for India. He was going to be the member of British Parliament. He was provided with an advisory body consisting of 15 members
  • Secretary of state-in-council was setup as a body corporate, capable of suing and being sued in India and in England
  • A viceroy would be appointed who would serve as the representative of British crown. Lord Canning was first such viceroy
  • India became a direct British colony through the passage of this act
  • The act ended the controversial ‘Doctrine of Lapse’
  • The Indian Civil Services was to be constituted for the administration of the country. There was also a provision for Indians to be admitted to the service.
  • Indian princes were allowed to retain their principalities so long as they accepted the suzerainty of the British

Criticism of the act: It did not in any way alter the system of government in India. Most of the provisions were enacted to safeguard the jewel of British empire against any future threats or rebellions


Indian Councils Act 1861:

The Indian Councils Act 1861 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that transformed India’s executive council to function as a cabinet run on the portfolio system. It was introduced because the British Government wanted to involve the Indian people with the process of law making. This Act was passed on 1st August 1861.


Main provisions of the Act:

    • It made a beginning of representative institutions by associating Indians with law-making
    • Viceroy nominated some Indians as non-official members of his expanded council
      • Lord Canning nominated- Raja of Benaras, the maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao
    • Restored legislative making powers of Bombay and Madras
    • Establishment of new Legislative councils for Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province and Punjab
    • Viceroy could make provisions for convenient transactions of business in the council.
    • It gave recognition to the ‘portfolio system’ of Lord Canning
    • Ordinances could be issued by the Viceroy without the concurrence of the council during an emergency. However, the life of such an ordinance was six months.


Drawbacks of the Act:

  • The biggest drawback of the Act was regarding the selection and the role of the Additional Members.
  • These members did not take part in the discussions and their role was only advisory.
  • The non-official members of the Executive Council were not interested in attending the meetings of the Council, moreover, under this Act they were not bound to attend them either.
  • The Indian members were not eligible to oppose any bill and most often the bills were passed in one sitting without discussion.


Indian Councils Act 1892:

The Indian Councils Act 1892 was an Act of British Parliament that introduced various amendments to the composition and function of legislative councils in British India. Most notably, the act expanded the number of members in the central and provincial councils.


Main provisions of the Act:

    • Increased non-official members in the council
      • Bombay – 8
      • Madras – 20
      • Bengal – 20
      • North-Western province -15
      • Oudh – 15
      • Central Legislative Council minimum – 10, maximum 16
    • Members could now debate the budget without having the ability to vote on it also barred from asking follow-up questions.
    • The Governor-General in Council was given the authority to set rules for member nomination, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for India.
    • Made a limited and indirect provision for the use of election in filling up non-official seats both in central and provincial councils
    • Nomination for non-official members to central legislative council (Bengal chamber of commerce, governors for provincial legislative council based on recommendation of district boards, municipalities, universities, trade associations, zamindars and chambers)


Significance of the act:

  • The Indian Councils Act, 1892 is a significant milestone in India’s constitutional and political history.
  • The act increased the size of various legislative councils in India thereby increasing the engagement of Indians with respect to the administration in British India.
  • The Indian Councils Act, 1892 was the first step towards the representative government in modern India.
  • The act created the stage for the development of revolutionary forces in India because the British only made a minor concession.

Morley-Minto reforms, 1909

  • It is one of the historic acts passed by the British parliament
  • Some of its important features are:
  1. The legislative councils at the Centre and the provinces increased in size
  2. It introduced non-official majority at the provincial legislature level
  3. It enlarged the deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels
  4. It provided for the first time for Indians to be associated with the executive council. SP Sinha became the law member in Viceroy’s executive council
  5. System of communal representation was introduced for Muslims
  6. Separate representations were provided for presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities and Zamindars

Analysis of the act

  • It sowed the seed for partition in India
  • It belied the expectations of self-governance that congress had sought

No meaningful representations at the central legislature level

  • It laid the foundations for many features that we associate with Indian constitution in the present times
  • Important features of the act are:
    • Objective: Gradual introduction of responsible government in India
    • It relaxed the control of centre over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects
    • Dyarchy: provincial subjects were divided into- transferred list and reserved list. Reserved lists were administered by the governor and his executive council that were not answerable to the legislature whereas transferred lists were administered by governor on the advice of the ministers responsible to the council.
    • Bicameralism and direct elections were introduced for the first time
    • The act mandated that the three of the six members of the Viceroy’s executive council were to be Indian
    • Principle of separate electorates was extended to Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans
    • It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education
    • High commissioner of India position created. Some powers of Secretary of State was transferred to the commissioner
    • Provincial budgets was separated for the first time from central budget
    • Central public service commission was established
    • Statutory commission to analyze the impact of this act after 10 years

Simon Commission: Major recommendations

  • Abolition of dyarchy
  • Extension of responsible government in provinces
  • Continuation of communal representation
  • Establishment of  a federation of British India and princely states
  • It provided for the establishment of an All India federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units.
  • It divided the powers between the centre and units in terms of three lists- Federal list, provincial list and the concurrent list. Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy. However, this federation never fructified since princely states did not join it.
  • It abolished dyarchy in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place
  • The act introduced responsible government in provinces, that is, the governor was required to act with the advice of ministers responsible to the provincial legislature
  • It provided for the adoption of dyarchy at the centre. However, this provision did not come into effect at all
  • Bicameralism was introduced in six provinces- Bengal, Bombay Madras, Bihar, Assam and the United Provinces
  • Separate electorates was further extended to depressed classes, women and labour
  • Council of India which was established as per the 1858 act was abolished The secretary of state was instead provided with a team of advisors.
  • The act provided for setting up- Federal public service commission, provincial public service commission, joint public service commission, federal court, Reserve Bank of India

Practice question:

It would have been difficult for the Constituent Assembly to complete its historic task of drafting the Constitution for Independent India in just three years but for the experience gained with the Government of India Act, 1935. Discuss.(250 words)



The Indian Independence Act, 1947, crucial because it enabled the transfer of power from the Crown to India in an amicable manner, was passed in British Parliament on July 5 that year, and received royal assent on July 18. A plan was formulated to split the British Indian colonies into India and Pakistan by Viceroy of India Lord Louis Mountbatten and Prime Minister of Britain Clement Attlee on June 3, 1947, after consultations with the main stakeholders — Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and representatives of the Sikh community.


Salient features of Indian Independence Act 1947 are:

  • It declared India as an independent and sovereign state
  • It provided for partition of India and creation of two new dominions- India and Pakistan
  • It abolished the position of secretary of state for India
  • It abolished the office of viceroy and provided for each dominion, a governor-general, who was to be appointed by the British King on the advice of the dominion cabinet
  • It empowered the constituent assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any constitution for their respective nations and to repeal any act of the British parliament, including the independence act itself
  • The constituent assemblies were empowered to legislate for their respective dominions till the new constitutions were drafted and enforced
  • It granted the princely states the freedom to join either of the dominions or to remain independent
  • Governance of each dominion was to be conducted based on the provisions of the GoI act, 1935
  • British monarch could no longer ask for bills or veto them. However, this was reserved for Governor-General.
  • Governor-General of the dominions were made to act on the aid and advise of the council


Evaluation of the features of act:

  • Hastened act: the lack of clarity on the border still has its repercussions today with constant tussle between India and Pakistan. The same is the case with border on Chinese side.
  • Jammu and Kashmir question: Jammu and Kashmir has been the bone of contention even today.
  • Rise in communal feeling: Another unforeseen consequence of Partition was that Pakistan’s population ended up more religiously homogeneous than originally anticipated.
  • Suspicion: Indian Muslims are frequently suspected of harbouring loyalties towards Pakistan; non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan are increasingly vulnerable thanks to the so-called Islamisation of life there since the 1980s.



Seven decades on, well over a billion people still live in the shadow of Partition. Thus, post-partition fragmented identities strengthened and much celebrated value of tolerance and acceptance appears to have weakened disturbing social harmony in the country. Exploitation of religious sentiments for political gains has further polarized the society.