Charter Act of 1853

Charter Act of 1853 was the last charter act passed for East India Company.  It was passed on expiry of charter act of 1833. The charter was renewed but no substantial changes were made. However, this was for the first time, that this charter act, unlike other charter acts, did not fix any limit for the continuance of the administration of the company in India. The act provided that the Indian territories will remain under the Governance of the company, until the parliament otherwise directed.

Reduction in Number of Directors

In England, Charter Act of 1853 reduced the number of Directors of the Company from 24 to 18. Out of these 18, six were to be appointed by the crown.

Separate Governor for Presidency of Bengal

The Charter act of 1853 provided for appointment of a separate Governor for the Presidency of Bengal, distinct from the Governor General. However, the court of Directors and the Board of Control were authorized to appoint a lieutenant governor, till the appointment of a Governor was made. Please note that the Lieutenant governor was appointed in 1854, but no Governor was appointed for Bengal till 1912.

Power to constitute a new Presidency

This act also empowered the Court of Directors either to constitute a new Presidency (In lines of Presidency of Madras or Bombay) or appoint a Lieutenant Governor. No new presidency was constituted but in 1859, a new Lieutenant governor was appointed for Punjab.

Expansion of Governor General’s Office

Charter Act of 1853 marks the expansion of the Council of the Governor General for legislative purposes. The fourth member was placed at an equal status with other members. The council of legislative purposes which had 6 members now was expanded to 12 members.

These 12 members were :

  1. The Governor General =1
  2. The commander in Chief =1
  3. Members of the Governor General’s Council=4
  4. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Calcutta)=1
  5. A regular judge of the Supreme court Calcutta=1
  6. Representative members drawn from the company’s servants with 10 years minimum tenure and appointed by the local governments of Bengal, Madras, Bombay and North Western provinces=4

Total =12

Genesis of Indian Civil Services

The previous charter act of 1833 had laid down that the Court of Directors should nominate annually 4 times as many candidates as there were vacancies, from whom one should be selected by competitive examination. The charter act of 1833 also provided the Haileybury college of London should make quota to admit the future civil servants. However, this system of an open competition was never effectively operated. A committee under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay had prepared the regulations in this context. The report said that:

  • Haileybury should cease to be maintained as higher education college for the ICS
  • There should be a broad general education rather than specialized education for the ICS recruits
  • The recruitment should be based upon an open competitive examination to bring out the best candidates and not through mere superficial knowledge
  • The appointments should be subject to a period of probation.
  • Charter Act of 1853 deprived the Court of Directors of its right of Patronage to Indian appointments and now it was to be exercised under the regulations. This was the Birth of Civil Services which was thrown in 1854 for open competition.

New provinces

By that time, the administrative situation got hard due to annexation of new territories to the company’s possession in India. The Charter Act of 1853 empowered the Governor General of India-in Council to take over by proclamation under his immediate authority and management of the territories for the time being. He was authorized to issue necessary orders and directions for its administrations or provide for its administration. This resulted in creation of Assam, the central provinces, and Burma.

Significance of Charter Act 1853

The Charter Act 1853 indicated clearly that the rule of the Company was not going to last a long time. The power and influence of the company were curtailed. British Crown could nominate six Directors. Further, marks the beginning of Parliamentary system in India because of the key feature that Legislative Council was clearly distinguished from the Executive Council. The Governor General was relieved of the administrative duties of Bengal. He was to devote his whole time to work for the Government of India.