Government of India Act 1858

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After the War of 1857 the British government brought a momentous change in the subcontinent. Through the Government of India Act 1858, the British crown assumed control of India from the East India Company. The powers of the Crown were vested by the Secretary of State for India who was to be a senior member of the cabinet and replaced the Board of Control and the court of Directors. The Secretary of State was responsible to the British Parliament and was assisted by a council of 15 members, known as the Council of India. Out of these 15 members, eight were to be appointed by the Crown and the rest were initially appointed by the Court of Directors and later by the Council itself. This Council was made up of nominees of the Crown and representatives of the Directors of the East India Company. The majority of the members were taken out of those persons who had served India for at least 10 years. Any member was liable to be removed by unanimous vote of the two Houses of Parliament. The Governor General, entitled as ‘Viceroy’ was there only to receive orders from the Secretary of State on all important policy measures and for their implementation. Military and Naval forces of the East India Company were merged into the forces of Crown and those who refused to acknowledge the transfer were discharged. The salaries of the Secretary of State, Council members and the Council staff were paid out of the revenues of India.

All these changes were formally announced in the subcontinent in the Royal Proclamation of 1st November 1858. The act declared the principles of justice and religious toleration as the ‘guiding policy of the Queen’s rule’. From 1858 to 1919, the Secretary of State had initiated and influenced all the legislation and reform measures in India. The administration of the country was not only unitary, but also rigidly centralized. There was no separation of functions — civil and military, executive and legislative — and the control of the Secretary of State over the Indian administration was absolute and all pervasive.

The rule of the British Crown lasted till 14 August 1947 when the British India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, Jan 04, 2006