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Charter Act of 1853

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  • Difficulty Level : Expert
  • Last Updated : 23 Mar, 2022

During the East India Company Rule, a lineage of Charter Acts was passed and one of the important among them is the Charter act 1853. So, in order to understand the Charter Act one should first understand the meaning of charter. A charter is defined as a written approval by the legislative assembly of a nation that allows the establishment of educational institutions, schools, Small or large scale Industries, private centres, companies, created or grant its privileges and rights.

The Charter Act of 1853 of East India Company was one of the impression-lasting acts as it was the last one to be passed. The uniqueness of the Charter Act 1853 is that it has given an unspecified period and was not like the earlier charter act of 1793, 1813, and 1833. The Charter Act 1852 was passed under the supervision of the Governor-General of India Lord Dalhousie. 

The Charter Act of 1853 has some of the everlasting impression as it marked the journey of the Parliamentary system in India and became an integral part of the Indian polity and constitution in the forthcoming years.

Historical Background:

Several issues got their peak in 1853 and the situation compelled to demand the decentralization of powers thus empowering the local Indian citizen’s share in business and management. The trade and business underwent several delays, unnecessary expenditures as the control and regulating powers of dispatch were under the Court of directors. There were annexation of Sind and Punjab territory and many other political changes took place after the act of 1833. There were certain veiled whispers and allegations on the Governor-General of India being in favour of Bengal and making certain favourable decisions for them. The above-mentioned reasons and the prevalence at that time compelled the British parliament to renew the East India Company’s charter as in 1853. Two Committees were set up and based on their reports, the Charter Act 1853 was formulated.

Key Provisions of The Charter Act, 1853:

 Changes to the Legislative Powers:

  • The executive functions were separated from the Governor-legislative General’s Council for the first time.
  • It created a distinct Legislative council (known as the Indian Central Legislative council) which ordered the addition of six new members to the council making it 12 members in total. The twelve members were: one Commander-in-Chief, one Governor-General, four members of the Governor-General’s Council, one judge of the Calcutta Supreme court, one Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, and four other representative members having the criteria of being company’s servants with at least 10 years tenure and should be appointed by the local legislature of Bengal, Madras, North-Western Provinces, and Bombay.
  • The right to veto a bill was transferred to Executive Council as it was earlier with the legislative council.  
  • It was during this charter that the Legislative council was considered as a distinct government body and required specialized procedures.
  • The legislative matter was carried out in public discussion and the bills were passed to the Select Committee rather than to any individual member.

 Changes to the Salary Provision:

  • The salaries of the Boards of controls, its Secretary, and other officers would be approved by the British government and payable by the East India Company.
  • The court of directors number was reduced from 24 to 18 and out of it, 6 members were to be nominated by the British Crown. Furthermore, the court of directors’ powers was weakened in terms of their patronage, subjects of the high posts were brought to equal opportunities through competitive exams and thus selection was made irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, etc.
  • This scheme was further highlighted by the formation of The Macaulay Committee of 1854, constituting the Indian Civil exams sets and procedures.
  • The Court of Directors was assigned with the power of forming a new Presidency, altering the state boundaries, incorporating the newly acquired state. This provision thus empowered the formation of a separate Lieutenant Governorship for Punjab, 1859.

 Changes to the Law Commission Powers and Provision:

  • The British Crown now had the power to appoint a Law Commission in England as per the Charter Act 1853.  
  • The law commission was assigned with the powers and duty to analyse the papers, reports, drafts of the Indian Law Commission.
  • The members of the Law Commission were to be elected from the Governor-General’s Executive Council and for this purpose, the Council membership was extended by six members.
  • The representatives in the Provinces should be civil servants for more than or at least 10 years.

 Changes to the Powers for the Presidency:

  • As per the Charter Act 1853, the Governor-General of Bengal Presidency appointment provisions were made. Until the Bengal Governor-general was appointed, the Court of Directors had the power to appoint a civil service candidate with 10 years of service or more as the Lieutenant-Governor of the province.
  • This empowerment of altering the existing province boundaries and incorporation of acquired states, to constitute a new province by the Court of Directors was brought into effect with the creation of Punjab into a Lieutenant-Governorship.
  • This empowerment further leads to the formation of Central Province, Assam, and Burma.

 Changes to the  Civil service (Open Competition):

  • It laid down the foundation of civil service exams and opened the gates of a fair competition system for civil servants’ recruitment and selection.
  • Thus as per the provision for ICS (Indian Civil Service), it opened the gates to Indians as well as the service was made available to Indians as well.
  • The Macaulay Committee was formed in 1854, to serve the purpose and is known as the Committee on Indian Civil Service.

Some of the Major Significance of the Charter Act, 1853:

  • It was the Charter Act, of 1853 that separated the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council for the first time.
  • The Governor-General’s Council proved to be a basic foundation for the modern-day Parliamentary and Government structure. The legislative wing was a model of the British Parliament.
  • It differed from the previous Charter act of 1793, 1813, and 1833 as it allowed the East India Company’s Rule for an indefinite period, thus could be acquired by the British Government at any point.
  • This act has taken over company power and thus reduces its influence as Board of Directors, and those will be nominated by the British Crown.
  • It introduced ICS (Indian Civil Service) and opened the gates to all Indians by appearing in ICS.
  • This act for the first time introduced the local members from the governments of Bengal, Bombay, Madras and North Western Provinces into the legislative council.

Criticism or Drawbacks of the Charter Act, 1853:

  • The major drawback of the Charter Act 1853 is it failed to include Indians in the Legislative Council.  
  • The Charter Act 1853, has not given the East India Company the legal period of 20 years for its governance, rather it has given the power to the Crown Government to step in at any point of time and take over from East India Company. This was further taken the pace after the 1857 Revolution or Mutiny.
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