After the great revolt of 1857, the British Government felt the necessity of seeking the cooperation of the Indians in the administration of their country. In pursuance of this policy of association, three acts were enacted by the British Parliament in 1861, 1892 and 1909. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 is an important landmark in the constitutional and political history of India.
Features of the Act of 1861
- It made a beginning of representative institutions by associating Indians with the lawmaking process. It thus provided that the viceroy should nominate some Indians as non-official members of his expanded council. In 1862, Lord Canning, the then viceroy, nominated three Indians to his legislative council—the Raja of Benaras, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao.
- It initiated the process of decentralization by restoring the legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras Presidencies. It thus reversed the centralizing tendency that started from the Regulating Act of 1773 and reached its climax under the Charter Act of 1833. This policy of legislative devolution resulted in the grant of almost complete internal autonomy to the provinces in 1937.
- It also provided for the establishment of new legislative councils for Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and Punjab, which were established in 1862, 1866 and 1897 respectively.
- It empowered the Viceroy to make rules and orders for the more convenient transaction of business in the council. It also gave a recognition to the ‘portfolio’ system, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859. Under this, a member of the Viceroy’s council was made in-charge of one or more departments of the government and was authorized to issue final orders on behalf of the council on matters of his department(s).
- It empowered the Viceroy to issue ordinances, without the concurrence of the legislative council, during an emergency. The life of such an ordinance was six months.
Features of the Act of 1892
- It increased the number of additional (non-official) members in the Central and provincial legislative councils but maintained the official majority in them.
- It increased the functions of legislative councils and gave them the power of discussing the budget5 and addressing questions to the executive.
- It provided for the nomination of some non-official members of the (a) Central Legislative Council by the viceroy on the recommendation of the provincial legislative councils and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and (b) that of the Provincial legislative councils by the Governors on the recommendation of the district boards, municipalities, universities, trade associations, zamindars and chambers.
‘The act made a limited and indirect provision for the use of election in filling up some of the non-official seats both in the Central and provincial legislative councils. The word “election” was, however, not used in the act. The process was described as nomination made on the recommendation of certain bodies.
Features of the Act of 1909
This Act is also known as Morley-Minto Reforms (Lord Morley was the then Secretary of State for India and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India).
- It considerably increased the size of the legislative councils, both Central and provincial. The number of members in the Central Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60. The number of members in the provincial legislative councils was not uniform.
- It retained an official majority in the Central Legislative Council but allowed the provincial legislative councils to have a non-official majority.
- It enlarged the deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels. For example, members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, move resolutions on the budget, and so on.
- It provided (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.
- It introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of ‘separate electorate’. Under this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Thus, the Act ‘legalised communalism’ and Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal Electorate.
- It also provided for the separate representation of presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities, and zamindars.