Charter Act of 1833 or Saint Helena Act of 1833
Charter act of 1833 also called as Saint Helena act of 1833 or Government of India Act 1833. This act was passed by the British parliament to increase the tenure of the East India company by 20 years as commercial and administrative privileges granted to the company by the act of 1813 were coming to an end in 1833.
When the charter act of 1833 was passed it was the period of the industrial revolution in England. Laissez-faire had become the cardinal principle of economic policy in British. The economists were starving hard to free trade from all the restrictions.
During the formation of the charter act of 1833, a strong section of the parliament was of the view of the transfer of the company’s government in India to the British crown.
The bill was introduced in the parliament when the Whig party was in power and the parliament was in a mood to favor reforms, free trade, and codification of laws.
Macaulay however, pleaded for the retention of the company as an organ of the government. He propounded that “the House of Commons has neither the necessary time to settle the Indian matters nor has the necessary knowledge, nor it has the necessary will to acquire the knowledge”.
At last, everyone agreed with the view of Macaulay. Finally, the Charter Act of 1833 was passed.
Provisions of The Charter Act of 1833
Changes in the ‘Home Government’
- All the commercial Privileges of the company were abolished. This means the company could no longer enjoy its monopoly of China trade. It now has to act as governmental power to run the Indian administration as an agent of the British crown
- The company was allowed to retain its territorial possessions as trustee for “ His Majesty, his hires and successors”.
- All the restrictions imposed on the entry of Europeans and British which were granted under the charter act of 1813 were abolished and they could now freely acquire, hold or dispose of any property in India. They could now enjoy the freedom of travel and residence in India.
Centralisation in the Administration
- Governor-General of Bengal was made the Governor-General of India. William Bentinck became the first Governor-General of British India.
- All the civil and military affairs were vested in the Governor-General in-council
- The act for the first time provided for the appointment of 4th member in the Governor-General in council.
- The fourth member entirely had the subject of legislation.
- He had no power to sit or vote in council except for the purpose of making law.
- Macaulay was appointed as the 4th member of Governor-General in the council of British India.
- The legislative power of British India wholly vested in the Governor-General in council
- The legislative powers of the presidency councils were curtailed. They could no longer make laws for their presidencies
- The Governor-General in council could repeal, amend and alter any laws or regulations enforced in British India
- If there is a dispute on any matter in the Governor-General counsels then the decision of the Governor-General will prevail and he can reject the majority decision
- The act contained a provision that emphasized the creation of the presidency of Agra and Fort William by the division of the Bengal presidency but this provision never came into existence.
This act also provides for the centralisation of financial resources. The presidency governments could no longer raise revenues and incur expenditure only with the authority of the Government of India. The Governor-General’s council took over all the financial matters including the raising of revenues and expenditure.
- Section 53 of the charter act of 1833 provided for the appointment of a Commission known as “Law Commission”, solely for the purpose of codification and consolidation of the Indian law.
- The first Law Commission was appointed in 1834 under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay, the other three members were J.M. Madeoa, G.W. Anderson, and C.H. Cameron who represented the presidencies of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay respectively.
- The draft of the Penal Code was submitted by the Law Commission to the government in 1837 it was also called as “Macaulay Code” however the draft could not be enacted as the law until 1860.
System of Merit
The act provided for the free participation of Indians in the administration of the country without any restrictions as to religion, color, caste, and creed. The only criteria for the selection will be on the basis of merit.
- The act also provided for the diminution of slavery. existing in British India.
- The British parliament abolished slavery in Britain in 1833.
The act of 1833 increased the number of Bishopries to three and made the Bishop of Calcutta the Metropolitan Bishop of India.
Drawbacks of the Act
- The over-centralisation burdened the work of the government-in-council to such an extent that he could not devote time and attention to broad questions of principles or matters of public importance.
- There was no representative from the presidencies in the supreme council. Therefore the government was not able to meet after needs, urgency, and requirements of the local government. This eventually led to dissatisfaction among the presidencies and they were indifferent towards the laws and measures introduced by the Supreme Council.
- As the central government was established at Calcutta, it was difficult for the Governor General-in-council to exercise effective control over distant presidencies, particularly because of the lack of adequate means of communication at that time.
- The power tested in the single authority i.e Governor-General, as a result, he became very powerful and at time acted as an autocrat.
The Charter Act of 1833 was undoubtedly the most important measure enacted by the Parliament during the 19th century. This act paved the way for the unification of British India and the establishment of a strong central government in this country. For the first time in the history of British India, this act provided for the codification of the laws and also set aside the narrow consideration of disqualification in the administration of the country. This act allowed the natives of India to freely participate in the administration of the county without any restrictions as to descent, color caste, creed, etc.
Author: Sunidhi Singh,
Amity University, Madhya Pradesh 2nd year, Student
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