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Evolution Of The Indian Constitution | POLITY

Introduction | Evolution Of The Indian Constitution

  • Before 1947, India was divided into two main entities – The British India which consisted of 11 provinces and the Princely states ruled by Indian princes under subsidiary alliance policy.
  • The two entities merged together to form the Indian Union, but many of the legacy systems in British India is followed even now.
  • The historical underpinnings and evolution of the India Constitution can be traced to many regulations and acts passed before Indian Independence.

What is a constitution?

  • Constitution is a legal document having a special legal sanctity, which sets out the framework and the principal functions of the organs of the government of a state, and declares the principles governing the operation of those organs.
  • Like every other Constitution, the Indian Constitution also seeks to establish the fundamental organs of government and administration, lays down their structure, composition, powers and principal functions, defines the inter-relationship of one organ with another, and regulates the relationship between the citizen and the state, more particularly the political relationship.
  • The states have reasserted certain principles of law through written Constitutions.

Functions of the Constitution | Evolution Of The Indian Constitution

The Constitution is a political structure, whether it is written or not and followed or not. They have several functions.

  • Expression of Basic Law: Constitutions present basic laws which could be modified or replaced through a process called extra ordinary procedure of amendment.
  • Expression of Ideology: it reflects the ideology and philosophy of a nation state.
  • Levels of Government: Constitution generally explains the levels of different organs of the Government i.e. federal, confederal or unitary
  • Organizational frame work: It defines the functions legislature, executive and judiciary, their inter-relationship, restrictions on their authority etc.
  • Amendment provision: As it would not be possible to foretell all possibilities in future with great degree of accuracy, there must be sufficient provisions for amendment of the Constitution.

Regulating Act of 1773

  • The first step was taken by the British Parliament to control and regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India.
  • It designated the Governor of Bengal (Fort William) as the Governor-General (of Bengal).
  • Warren Hastings became the first Governor-General of Bengal.
  • Executive Council of the Governor-General was established (Four members). There was no separate legislative council.
  • It subordinated the Governors of Bombay and Madras to the Governor-General of Bengal.
  • The Supreme Court was established at Fort William (Calcutta) as the Apex Court in 1774.
  • It prohibited servants of the company from engaging in any private trade or accepting bribes from the natives.
  • Court of Directors ( the governing body of the company) should report its revenue.

Pitt’s India Act of 1784

  • It distinguished between the commercial and political functions of the Company.
  • It allowed the Court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs but created a new body called Board of Control to manage the political affairs. Thus, it established a system of double government.
  • It empowered the Board of Control to supervise and direct all operations of the civil and military government or revenues of the British possessions in India.
  • Thus, the act was significant for two reasons: first, the Company’s territories in India were for the first time called the ‘British possessions in India’; and second, the British Government was given the supreme control over the Company’s affairs and its administration in India.

Charter Act of 1813

  • The Company’s monopoly over Indian trade terminated; Trade with India open to all British subjects.

Charter Act of 1833

  • Governor-General (of Bengal) became the Governor-General of India.
  • First Governor-General of India was Lord William Bentick.
  • This was the final step towards centralization in  British India.
  • Beginning of a Central legislature for India as the act also took away legislative powers of Bombay and Madras provinces.
  • The Act ended the activities of the East India Company as a commercial body and it became a purely administrative body.

Charter Act of 1853

  • The legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s Council were separated.
  • 6 members in Central legislative council. Four out of six members were appointed by the provisional governments of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and Agra.
  • It introduced a system of open competition as the basis for the recruitment of civil servants of the Company (Indian Civil Service opened for all).

Government of India Act of 1858

  • The rule of Company was replaced by the rule of the Crown in India.
  • The powers of the British Crown were to be exercised by the Secretary of State for India
  • He was assisted by the Council of India, having 15 members
  • He was vested with complete authority and control over the Indian administration through the Viceroy as his agent
  • The Governor-General was made the Viceroy of India.
  • Lord Canning was the first Viceroy of India.
  • Abolished Board of Control and Court of Directors.

Indian Councils Act of 1861 | Evolution Of The Indian Constitution

  • It introduced for the first time Indian representation in the institutions like Viceroy’s executive+legislative council (non-official). 3 Indians entered the Legislative council.
  • Legislative councils were established in Center and provinces.
  • It provided that the Viceroy’s Executive Council should have some Indians as the non-official members while transacting the legislative businesses.
  • It accorded statutory recognition to the portfolio system.
  • Initiated the process of decentralisation by restoring the legislative powers to the Bombay and the Madras Provinces.

India Council Act of 1892

  • Introduced indirect elections (nomination).
  • Enlarged the size of the legislative councils.
  • Enlarged the functions of the Legislative Councils and gave them the power of discussing the Budget and addressing questions to the Executive.

Indian Councils Act of 1909 (Morley- Minto Reform)

  • Direct elections to legislative councils; first attempt at introducing a representative and popular element.
  • It changed the name of the Central Legislative Council to the Imperial Legislative Council.
  • The member of the Central Legislative Council was increased to 60 from 16.
  • Introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of ‘separate electorate’.
  • Indians for the first time in Viceroys executive council. (Satyendra Prasanna Sinha, as the law member)

Government of India Act of 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford reform- Magna Carta of India) | Evolution Of The Indian Constitution

  • The Central subjects were demarcated and separated from those of the Provincial subjects.
  • The scheme of dual governance, ‘Dyarchy’, was introduced in the Provincial subjects.
  • Under the dyarchy system, the provincial subjects were divided into two parts – transferred and reserved. On reserved subjects, Governor was not responsible to the Legislative council.
  • The Act introduced, for the first time, bicameralism at the center.
  • Legislative Assembly with 140 members and Legislative council with 60 members.
  • Direct elections.
  • The Act also required that the three of the six members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council (other than Commander-in-Chief) were to be Indians.
  • Provided for the establishment of the Public Service Commission.

Government of India Act of 1935

  • The Act provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of the Provinces and the Princely States as units, though the envisaged federation never came into being.
  • Three Lists: The Act divided the powers between the Centre and the units into items of three lists, namely the Federal List, the Provincial List and the Concurrent List.
  • The Federal List for the Centre consisted of 59 items, the Provincial List for the provinces consisted of 54 items and the Concurrent List for both consisted of 36 items
  • The residuary powers were vested with the Governor-General.
  • The Act abolished the Dyarchy in the Provinces and introduced ‘Provincial Autonomy’.
  • It provided for the adoption of Dyarchy at the Centre.
  • Introduced bicameralism in 6 out of 11 Provinces.
  • These six Provinces were Assam, Bengal, Bombay, Bihar, Madras and the United Province.
  • Provided for the establishment of Federal Court.
  • Abolished the Council of India.

Indian Independence Act of 1947

  • It declared India as an Independent and Sovereign State.
  • Established responsible Governments at both the Centre and the Provinces.
  • Designated the Viceroy India and the provincial Governors as the Constitutional (normal heads).
  • It assigned dual functions (Constituent and Legislative) to the Constituent Assembly and declared this dominion legislature as a sovereign body.



Indian Polity

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