First Viceroy of India – Lord Canning 1858-1862

Lord Canning served as Governor General of India from 1856 to 1862. During his tenure, the Government of India Act, 1858 was passed which created the office of Viceroy to be held by the same person who was Governor General of India. Thus, Lord Canning also served as first Viceroy of India. The important events during his tenure include – the Mutiny of 1857, which he was able to suppress successfully, Passing of Indian Councils Act, 1861 which introduced portfolio system in India, withdrawal of “Doctrine of Lapse” in which was one of the main reasons of mutiny of 1858, introduction of Code of Criminal Procedure, enactment of Indian High Courts Act, Indian Penal Code (1858), Bengal Rent Act (1859), introduction of Income tax on experimental basis etc.

Queen Victoria’s Proclamation (1858)

On November 1, 1858, Lord Canning sent forth the royal proclamation in a grand Darbar at Allahabad via which Queen Victoria intimated that she had assumed the direct government of India. This proclamation also set forth the principles on the basis of which India was to be governed in future and the British policy towards people of British-Indian territories and princes. The key points from this are as follows:

  • All treaties and engagements of East India Company with princely states would be maintained and honoured.
  • There will be no further extension of the territories of the erstwhile East India Company. No encroachment on British territories in India would be allowed and no encroachment will be done by British on territories of others.
  • The rights, dignity and honour of native princes would be respected as our own.
  • Expressed the desire that British subjects enjoy prosperity, social advancement that can be only secured by internal peace and good government.
  • Bound to natives of Indian territories by same obligations which bind us to other subjects.
  • Admission to services / offices of the government without discrimination on race or creed.
  • Amnesty to all except those who had directly taken part in the murder of British subject

The above proclamation was called “Magnacarta of people of India” and was declared in eloquent style to be in consonance with principle of justice and religious toleration as guiding policy of queen’s rule.

End of East India’s Army

The last solemn assembly of East India Company was held on September 1, 1858. With the queen’s proclamation, armies of East India Company ceased to exist and forces in India were incorporated as integral part of the British army. The Indian sepoys were enlisted in the regular service of British army.

Government of India Act, 1858

On August 2, 1858, the GOI Act, 1858 {formally Act for the Good Government of India} got royal assent and came into force from November 1, 1858. This act provided liquidation of the East India Company and transferred the powers of government to British Crown. Key points of this act were as follows:

  • The powers of East India Company’s Board of Control and Court of Directors would be now exercised by Secretary of State for India. This new office was created to exercise the complete authority and control over Indian administration.
  • The Secretary of State for India was also a member of British Parliament and was responsible to British Parliament.
  • The Secretary of State for India was to be assisted by a Council of 15 members. More than 50% members of this council ought to have lived in India for at least 10 years.
  • The British members of parliament could ask questions from Secretary of State for India on matters related to Indian administration.
  • The Governor General to work as representative of the British Government and was responsible for administration of the country. A new office of Viceroy was created to work as a diplomat to parley with the Princely states. Both the offices were to be held by same person. Viceroy was made responsible to Secretary of State for India.

The Government of India Act, 1858 thus resulted in highly centralized structure of governance in India. Further, it was a formal change and did not bring any substantial changes in the lives of Indian people.

Indian Councils Act, 1861

In 1861, the parliament passed Indian Councils Act. With this act, the overburdened executive council of the Governor General provided a fifth {financial} member; and for the purpose of making laws, addition of 6-12 members was made. Some new powers were assigned to Governor General for ease of administration. This act also empowered the Governor General to delegate special task to individual members of the Executive council, thus began the Portfolio system in India. It also gave legislative powers to governments of Bombay and Madras, thus leading to decentralization to some extent.

Indian Civil Services Act 1861

Indian Civil Services Act, 1861 provided that any person, whether Indian or European could be appointed to any of the offices (specified in the schedule of this act), provided that he had resided for minimum of seven years in India. The person had to pass an exam in vernacular language of the district, in which he was employed. However, the same act maintained that some of the principal civil offices in India were reserved to the covenanted civil service (only British were eligible for these). By that time, Indians were demanding entry into the Covenanted Civil services but this demand was not fulfilled.

Indian High Courts Act 1861

This act was passed to fuse the Supreme Courts, Sadar Diwani Adalats and Sadar Fauzdari Adalats and also enable queen to issue letters patent to establish high courts of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Courts, Sadar Diwani Adalats and Fauzdari Adalats was subsumed by High Courts.

The act provided that each high Court will be composed of one chief justice and maximum 15 judges. The chief justice and at least 3 regular judges had to be barristers and one third of these judges should be from covenanted civil service. As per the letters patent issued by queen for establishment of high courts:

  • The High Court of Judicature of Fort Williams was established on July 1 1862 with Sir Barnes Peacock as its first Chief Justice. This was later known as Calcutta High Court and was the first high court of India. In 1863, Justice Shambhoo Nath Pandit became first Indian to become a judge in this court.
  • On 14 August 1862, Bombay high Court was established.
  • The letters patent for Madras high Court was issued on 26th June 1862.

Further, a high court of judicature for the north-western provinces came into existence at Agra under a letters patent of March 17, 1866. Its seat was shifted from Agra to Allahabad in 1869 and its designation was altered to the high court of judicature at Allahabad by a supplementary letters patent issued on March 11, 1919. In 2016, Allahabad High Court celebrated its 150th year.

Indian Penal Code 1862

The initial sketch of the Indian Penal Code was drawn by Lord Macaulay in 1830s, but it was finally drafted in 1860 and came into force in 1862. Prior to that, the final draft of Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure was ready in 1861. Before 1860, the basis of justice was “The English Criminal Law” which was administered in the Presidency-Towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.

Indian Penal code was inherited by Pakistan after separation and was later named Pakistan Penal Code.  The same was adopted by Bangladesh also. It was also adopted in almost all the British colonies of Asia such as Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Introduction of Income Tax and other Financial Reforms

Via the Indian Council Act, 1861 a fifth member was added to the Governor General Executive Council as a finance member. James Wilson was the 1st finance member. He proposed three types of taxes but his successor Laing proposed only one tax called Income Tax. With this, income tax was imposed @5% on the income of Rs. 500 or more in a year. The government also reduced substantially the military and civil expenditure. The salt levy was increased to boost the revenue.

Army Reforms

The army of the East India Company was incorporated as integral part of the British army and the Indian sepoys were enlisted in the regular service of British army. However, learning lessons from the mutiny, it was decided that the ratio of Indian soldiers to European solders would be never more than two times. Artillery was put exclusively in the hands of the European army.

Agricultural / Land Reforms – Bengal Rent Act, 1859

Bengal Rent Act, 1859 was the first tenancy legislation after 1793 permanent settlement by Lord Cornwallis. Lord Canning had introduced this law to reform relations of the landlords and their tenants. The basic objective of this law was to strengthen the position of peasants vis-a-vis landlords by defining the powers of the Ryots and limiting the Landlord’s powers of arbitrary rent enhancement and eviction. As per this act, the Farmers who had been holding lands for 20 years on the same rent were deemed to be entitled of this right since 1793. It was further decided that unless an inquiry of a court was made, their rent could not be enhanced. It also provided ryots right to sublet their lands.

Agriculture / Land Reforms – The Tea Mania

By 1860, India’s tea produced in Assam had started getting attention in Europe. Between 1850 and 1860, a wasteland settlement policy was adopted by the British Government to facilitate large tracts of land for tea cultivation in Assam. Lord Canning further liberalized this policy via his so called fee-simple-rules under which land was sold to prospective planters at low cost {Rs. 2.8 to 5 per acre} without any clearance conditions required. This led to a fanatic expansion of tea plantations in Assam and also generated a highly speculated boom called “Tea Mania”. This Tea Mania was characterized by sale and resale of tea gardens and deceptions in which lands with recently planted tea plants were sold as productive tea estates! Nevertheless, the Assam tea got fame during times of Lord Canning.

Indigo Revolt

During 859-60 the disputes between European indigo planters and the Bengal peasantry led to the Indigo revolt. The European planters wanted to force the tenants to cultivate more and more indigo due to heavy demand of the blue dye in Europe. This led to revolt. A Commission was appointed to enquire into the matter. It was decided that tenant should not be liable to criminal prosecution for refusal to fulfil a civil contract to grow indigo.

Other Events

Under Lord Canning, three universities were set up at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras on the model of London University. East India Railway was opened between Calcutta and Allahabad in 1861.

Mild Policy of Lord Canning: “Clemency Canning”

The policy of Lord Canning was not marked by any vengeance towards Indians post 1857 mutiny. His liberal and tolerant policy also inculcated some faith in Indians at a time when national movement was about to begin. He also showered favours upon the Indian prices who helped British during mutiny. The Doctrine of Lapse was abolished and made it clear that British Government will interfere only in case of misgovernance and would withdraw when situation turns normal. Due to his mild and tolerant policy, he was called Clemency Canning. Lord Canning left India in March, 1862, and died within a month in England. His successor was Lord Elgin.

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