Indian Councils Act (1861, 1892)


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.