Administration - Central, Provincial, Local

Central Administration

An Act of Parliament in 1858 transferred the power to govern from the East India Company to the British Crown. While authority over India had previously been wielded by the directors of the Company and the Board of Control, now this power was to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.

The Secretary of State was a member of the British Cabinet and as such was responsible to Parliament. Thus the ultimate power over India remained with Parliament.

Under the Act, government was to be carried on as before by the Governor-General who was also given the title of Viceroy or Crown's personal representative. With the passage of time, the Viceroy was increasingly reduced to a subordinate status in relation to the British government in matters of policy as well as execution of policy.

The Secretary of State controlled the minutest details of administration. Thus the authority that exercised final and detailed control and direction over Indian affairs came to reside in London, thousands of miles away from India. Under such conditions, Indian opinion had even less impact on government policy than before.

On the other hand, British industrialists, merchants, and bankers increased their influence over the Government of India. This made the Indian administration even more reactionary than it was before 1858, for now even the pretence of liberalism was gradually given up.

In India the Act of 1858 provided that the Governor-General would have an Executive Council whose members were to act as heads of different departments and as his official advisers. The Council discussed all important matters and decided them by a majority vote; but the Governor-General had the power to override any important decision of the Council.

The Indian Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the Governor-General's Council for the purpose of making laws, in whose capacity it was known as the Imperial Legislative Council. The Governor-General was authorised to add to his Executive Council between six and twelve members of whom at least half had to be non-officials who could be Indian or English. The Imperial Legislative Council possessed no real powers and should not be seen as a sort of elementary or weak parliament. It was merely an advisory body. It could not discuss any important measures, and no financial measures at all, without the previous approval of the government. It had no control over the budget. It could not discuss the actions of the administration; the members could not even ask questions about them. In other words, the Legislative Council had no control over the executive. Moreover, no bill passed by it could become an Act till it was approved by the Governor-General. On top of all this, the Secretary of State could disallow any of its Acts. Thus, the only important function of the Legislative Council was to ditto official measure and give them the appearance of having been passed by a legislative body. In theory, the non-official Indian members were added to the Council to represent Indian views. But the Indian members of the Legislative Council were few in number and were not elected by the Indian people but nominated by the Governor-General whose choice invariably fell on princes and their ministers, big zamindars, big merchants, or retired senior government officials.

They were thoroughly unrepresentative of the Indian people or of the growing nationalist opinion. The Government of India remained, as before 1858, an alien despot. This was no accident, but a conscious policy.

Charles Wood, the Secretary of State for India, while moving the Indian Councils Bill of 1861, said:

All experience teaches us that where a dominant race rules another, the mildest form of government is a despotism.

Provincial Administration:

The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which Bengal, Madras and Bombay were known as Presidencies. The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown.

The Presidency governments possessed more rights and powers than governments of other provinces which were administered by Lieutenant Governors and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General. The provincial governments enjoyed a great deal of autonomy before 1833 when their power to pass laws was taken away and their expenditure subjected to strict central control. But experience soon showed that a vast country like India could not be efficiently administered on the principle of strict centralisation.

The evil of extreme centralisation was most obvious in the field of finance. The revenues from all over the country and from different sources were gathered at the centre and then distributed by it to the provincial governments. The central government exercised strict control over the smallest details of provincial expenditure. But this system proved quite wasteful in practice.

It was not possible for the central government to supervise the efficient collection of revenues by a provincial government or to keep adequate check over its expenditure. The authorities therefore decided to decentralize public finance.

The first step in the direction of separating central and provincial finances was taken in 1870 by Lord Mayo. The provincial governments were granted fixed sums out of central revenues for the administration of certain services like police, jails, education, medical services, and roads and were asked to administer them as they wished.

Lord Mayo's scheme was enlarged in 1877 by Lord Lytton who transferred to the provinces certain other heads of expenditure like land revenue, excise, general administration, and law and justice. To meet the additional expenditure a provincial government was to get a fixed share of the income realised from that province from certain sources like stamps, excise taxes, and income tax.

Further changes in these arrangements were made in 1882. The system of giving fixed grants to the provinces was ended and, instead, a province was to get the entire income from certain sources or revenue within it and a fixed share of the income from other sources. Thus, all sources of revenue were now divided into three general, provincial, and those to be divided between the centre and the provinces.

The different measures of financial decentralisation discussed above did not really mean the beginning of genuine provincial autonomy or of Indian participation in provincial administration. They were much more in the nature of administrative reorganization whose chief aims were to keep down expenditure and increase income.

In theory as well as in practice, the central government remained supreme and continued to exercise effective and detailed control over the provincial governments. This was inevitable, for both the central government and the provincial governments were completely subordinated to the Secretary of State and the British government.

Local Administration:

Financial difficulties led the government to further decentralise administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards. The Industrial Revolution gradually transformed European economy and society in the nineteenth century.

India's increasing contact with Europe and new modes of imperialism and economic exploitation made it necessary that some of the European advances in economy, sanitation, and education should be transplanted in India.

Moreover, the rising Indian nationalist movement demanded the introduction of modern improvements in civic life. Thus the need for education of the masses, sanitation, water supply, better roads, and other civic amenities was increasingly felt. The government could no longer afford to ignore it.

But its finances were already in disorder due to heavy expenditure on the army and the railways. It could not increase its income through new taxes as the burden of the existing taxation was already very heavy on the poor and a further addition to it was likely to create discontent against the government.

On the other hand, the government did not want to tax the upper classes, especially the British civil servants, planters and traders. But the authorities felt that the people would not mind paying new taxes if they knew that their proceeds would be spent on their own welfare.

It was therefore decided to transfer local services like education, health, sanitation and water supply to local bodies who would finance them through local taxes.

Many Englishmen had pressed for the formation of local bodies on another ground as well. They believed that associating Indians with the administration in some capacity or the other would prevent their becoming politically disaffected. This association could take place at the level of local bodies without in any way endangering British monopoly of power in India.

Local bodies were first formed between 1864 and 1868, but almost in every case they consisted of nominated members and were presided over by District Magistrates. They did not, therefore, represent local self-government at all. Nor did intelligent Indians accept them as such. They looked upon them as instruments for the extraction of additional taxes from the people.

A step forward, though a very hesitant and inadequate one, was taken in 1882 by Lord Ripon's government. A government resolution laid down the policy of administering local affairs largely through rural and urban local bodies, a majority of whose members would be non-officials. These non-official members would be elected by the people wherever and whenever officials felt that it was possible to introduce elections. The resolution also permitted the election of a non-official as chairperson of a local body. But the elected members were in a minority in all the district boards and in many of the municipalities.

They were, moreover, elected by a small number of voters since the right to vote was severely restricted. District officials continued to act as presidents of district boards though non-officials gradually became chairpersons of municipal committees.The government also retained the right to exercise strict control over the activities of the local bodies and suspend and supersede them at its own discretion. The result was that except in the Presidency cities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, the local bodies functioned just like departments of the government and were in no way good examples of local self-government.

All the same, the politically conscious Indians welcomed Ripon s resolution and worked actively in these local bodies in the hope that in time they could be transformed into effective organs of local self-government.

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