Best Notes – Constitutional History (Constitutional Development) of India

In this post, we will discuss the Constitutional History (Constitutional Development) of India and cover Regulating act 1773, Pitts India Act 784, the Charter acts, Indian Council acts, the Government of India Acts, the Cripps Mission, the Wavell Plan, the Simla Conference, Cabinet Mission, the Mountbatten Plan and Indian Independence Act 1947.

Constitutional History

Constitutional History of India

The East India Company (EIC) was formed by some merchants of London on 31 December 1600. The company had secured The Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth. Through this charter, the company got absolute rights for trade with India and some portions of South-East Asia.

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The Royal Charter laid down the constitution, powers and privileges of the company. The powers and privileges of the company were enlarged by each subsequent charter.

  • Apart from entrusting the Island and port of Bombay, the Charter Act 1669 empowered the East India Company to make laws and issue ordinances for the good government of Bombay. Thus, through this act, from a mere trading company, the East India Company became a ruler.
  • In 1677, the company was given the right to issue coins and in 1683 it was empowered to declare war and make treaties.
  • After the Battle of Buxar (1764), Mughal Emperor Shah Alam entrusted the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the company which meant that the company acquire full powers of land revenue collection and administration of civil justice while the responsibility of administration maintenance of law and order and criminal justice remained with the Nawab. This system of administration (1765-1772) was called ‘Dyarchy’. The system proved disastrous and led to the appointment of an inquiry committee by the British House of Commons.
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Regulating Act of 1773

This was the first written charter for the Company rule in India. British Parliament’s control over the company started with this charter. Territories controlled by the company no longer remained a private affair of the traders.

  • The Act established a Supreme Court at Calcutta.
  • It brought the three presidencies under the Control of the Governor-General of Bengal with his four newly appointed councilors.
  • It brought about fundamental reforms in the composition of the court of Directors in England.

Pitts India Act of 1784

Under this Act, the Court of Directors was left with responsibilities in matters of trade and commerce only. For political matters, a board of control of 6 members was appointed. The board had the powers to superintend, direct and control all operations of the civil and military government of British possessions in India.

Charter Act of 1813

The Act deprived the company of the monopoly of trade in India. While the powers of the three councils of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta were enlarged, they were subjected to greater control of the British Parliament.

Charter Act of 1833

With Charter Act, 1833, British rule started the first step of Constitution-making in India. This Act is credited with introducing Institutional specialisation in British territories in India.

  • The Act differentiated the law-making meetings of the Governor General-in-Council from its executive meetings.
  • A law member was added to the Governor General-in-Council.
  • Now onwards the Governor General’s government was known as the Government of India and his council as the Indian Council.

Charter Act of 1853

This was the last charter Act. Though the Governor-General’s Council continued to remain the sole authority to enact laws for the whole of British India, yet the system was entirely changed, thanks to so many alterations introduced by this Act.

  • The council was enlarged for the legislative purpose by the addition of six special members, called Legislative Councilors.
  • The legislative functions of the council were demarcated from executive functions.

The Act of 1858

The Mutiny of 1857 gave a death blow to the system of East India Company’s rule in India. After the suppression of the Mutiny, British Parliament passed a new act, the Act of 1858, which brought all the Company-controlled territories under the direct rule of Great Britain. The act is known as The Act for the Good Government of India” of 1858.

Under this Act all the Indian territories then in possession of the company became vested in the crown and were to be governed directly by and in the name of the Crown, acting through a Principal Secretary of State.

Indian Council Act of 1861

The Act was aimed at establishing closer contacts with public opinion in the country. The Act not only decentralised the legislative powers of the Governor-GeneraI’s Council, but it also paved way for Indian to be nominated on the Council.

  • The Executive Council of the Governor General was enlarged by the addition of a fifth member who was to be a jurist and for purpose of legislation by the addition of not less than six and not more than twelve members, at least half of whom were to be non-officials.
  • For the first time Indians were associated with the work of legislation.

The Indian Council Act of 1892

The 1861 Act was widely criticised for giving too much power to the Governor-General and ignoring the aspirations of Indians. There were strong feelings against the British. The Indian National Congress, which came into being in 1985, was demanding roles for Indians in legislative business. Against this backdrop, the Indian Council Act of 1892 was passed. This Act was important for two reasons. a) it introduced representative element, b) restrictions on the council were eased:

  • The councils (Governor General’s council and Provincial Legislative Councils) were enlarged
  • The councils were not allowed to hold a discussion on the Budget
  • Members of the councils were also permitted to ask questions on matters of public interest
  • The entry of the elected members marked the beginning of the new era in the life of the council

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The Indian Council Act of 1909

During 1906-1908, Lord Morley, the then Secretary of State for India, and Lord Minto, the then Viceroy, had drawn up certain constitutional reform proposals. These proposals, popularly known as Minto-Morley reforms, sought to expand the Legislative Councils, and give more powers to the councils. The appointment of Indian members on the Executive Council was one of the important reform proposals of Minto-Morley. The Indian Council Act of 1909 contained many of the reform proposals of Minto-Morley.

  • It further enlarged the councils and expanded their functions
  • The regulations created non-official majorities in all the Provincial Legislative Councils but maintained an official majority in the Central Legislative Council.
  • Separate electorates and separate representation for the Muslim community were created through this act. Thus, the principle of communal representation was introduced for the first time.

The Government of India Act, 1919

The Government of India Act 1919 was based on the Montagu-Chelmsford Report. In 1917, Mr. Montagu, the then Secretary of State for India, made a historic statement in the British House of Commons, promising to establish responsible government in India. One year later, in 1918, the Montagu-Chelmsford report was published. The report ignored the demand of self-governing dominions. However, the demand for separate communal electorates was accepted by the report.

  • Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of a Council of State (Upper House) and a Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
  • Each house was to have an elected majority.
  • Dyarchy was introduced in eight major provinces. The Act classified the subjects of administration as Central and Provincial for the devolution of authority.

The Simon Commission 1927

1919 Act failed to deliver the promise of bringing responsible government. There were strong demands for more administrative reforms. The Act had made a promise to set up a commission to inquire into the working of the Act. The commission was scheduled to be appointed in 1929. However, it was appointed in 1927, two years before the schedule.

The Government of India Act 1935

The Government decided to hold a Round Table Conference (RTC) in London in 1930 to consider constitutional reforms. After three RTCs, the British government published a White Paper in 1933 containing an outline of a new constitution.

The scheme contained provisions for a federal setup and provincial autonomy. The British Parliament constituted a joint committee to further consider the government’s scheme formulated in the white paper. On the basis of its report, the Government of India Act 1935 was passed.

  • The Government of India Act 1935 envisaged a federation of all India consisting of the British provinces and the Indian states willing to join it.
  • Burma was carved out from India by this Act and two new provinces of Orissa and Sind were created.
  • The federal part of the Act could not be implemented.
  • Elections for the provincial legislatures under this Act were held in 1937.

The Cripps Mission

In March 1942, when World War II was passing through a crucial stage, the British government sent Cabinet Minister Sir Stafford Cripps on a special mission to India. However, the Cripps Mission ended in a failure, as its proposals were rejected by all the political parties on different grounds.

  • The Cripps Mission proposed Dominion Status and the right of Indians to frame a constitution in their constituent assembly after the War.
  • The Muslim League rejected these proposals because its demand for partition of the country on communal grounds was not conceded
  • The Congress rejected them as it feared that the proposals would open up possibilities of dividing India into many small bits
  • The Congress also rejected the proposals for not making any attempt to transfer really effective power to representative Indian hands.
  • Gandhiji condemned the proposal as a post-dated cheque.

Wavell Plan and Simla Conference

  • Under the Wavell Plan pending the framing of the constitution by the Indian themselves and as an interim arrangement, the interim council was to be Indianized with the inclusion of Indian political leaders.
  • The viceroy (Lord Wavell) convened a conference of Indian leaders at Simla. The talks failed because while the Congress insisted on a united India, the Muslim League was not prepared to budge from its demand of Pakistan.

Cabinet Mission

  • The members of the Cabinet Mission were Lord Pethick Lawrence, Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander.
  • The Mission rejected the League demand for a separate sovereign state of Pakistan.
  • The Mission also rejected the congress scheme of a loose federation.

Proposals of Cabinet Mission

  • There should be a Union of India embracing both British India and the States.
  • The union should have an Executive and Legislature constituted from British India and the States.
  • All subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers should vest in the Provinces.
  • The State will retain all subjects and powers other than those ceded to the Union.

Mountbatten Plan

Lord Louis Mountbatten reached India on 22 March 1947. Upon realising that the Congress and the Muslim League won’t be able to work together either in the Interim Government or in the Constituent Assembly, he prepared a plan for the partition. The plan, popularly known as the Mountbatten Plan, was prepared in consultation with the leaders in Britain.

  • A fresh policy statement embodying the Mountbatten Plan was issued on 3 June 1947.
  • Based on the Mountbatten Plan, the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Bill, 1947.

Indian Independence Act, 1947

  • It fixed the date of 15 August 1947 for setting up the two Dominions.
  • Territorial divisions of India into India and Pakistan were drawn up
  • Constitution of the two provinces each in Bengal and Punjab were also prepared.
  • India Would comprise all the British India provinces excepting the area which were to go to Pakistan.
  • Pakistan was to comprise East Bengal, West Punjab, Sindh and the Sylhet district of Assam.
  • The responsibility of His Majesty’s Government in India and the suzerainty of His Majesty over the Indian states would lapse on 15 August 1947.
  • The Indian states could accede either of the two Dominions.
  • On the midnight of 14-15 August, two dominions of India and Pakistan were constituted.

Making of the Constitution

  • The first definite reference to a Constituent Assembly for India was made by Mahatma Gandhi in 1922.
  • In 1924, a National Convention was called under the Presidentship of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. This convention drafted the ‘Commonwealth of India Bill’.
  • At the Bombay Session of the Congress (1927). A resolution calling upon the Congress Working Committee to frame a constitution was moved by Motilal Nehru.
  • An All-Parties Conference organised at Bombay in 1928 appointed a committee, under the Chairmanship of Motilal Nehru to determine the principles of the constitution of India.
  • The report of the committee (Popularly Known as Nehru Report) was the first attempt by the Indians to frame a constitution for their country. The report was based on the principle of Dominion Status with full responsible government on the parliamentary pattern.
  • In June 1934, the Congress Working Committee for the first time put forward a definite demand for a constituent assembly.
  • At Lucknow Session of the Congress (1936), a resolution was adopted declaring that no constitution imposed by an outside authority shall be acceptable to India.
  • British Government’s August Offer (1940) conceded the demand of a Constituent Assembly.
  • The Cripps Proposal declared that the making of the new constitution was to rest solely in the Indian hands.
  • In 1943 Lord Wavell affirmed His Majesty’s Government’s intention to convene a constitution-making body as soon as possible.
  • The Cabinet Mission recommended a basic framework for the constitution and laid down in some detail the procedure to be followed by the constitution-making body.
  • With the partition and independence of the Country, the Constitution Assembly of India became a fully sovereign body.
  • Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the President of the Constituent Assembly.

Framing of the Constitution

  • The Constituent Assembly duly opened (First Sitting) on the appointment day Monday, the 9th December 1946.
  • The historic Objectives Resolution was moved in the Constituent Assembly by Jawaharlal Nehru, on 13 December 1946.
  • The Resolution envisaged a federal polity with the residuary powers vesting in the autonomous units and sovereignty belonging to the people. “Justice, social, economic and political; Equality of status, of opportunity and before the law; Freedom of thought, expression and belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action” were to be guaranteed to all the people along with “adequate safeguard” to “minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed and other backward classes”.
  • Thus, the resolution gave to the Assembly its guiding principles and the Philosophy that was to permeate its tasks of Constitution making. It was finally adopted by the Assembly on 22 January 1947 and later took the form of the Preamble to the constitution.
  • The Constituent Assembly on 29 August 1947 appointed the Drafting Committee with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as the Chairman to scrutinise the draft of the text prepared by the Constitutional Adviser (B. N. Rau) giving effect to the decisions taken in the assembly.
  • The clause-by-clause consideration was completed on 17 October 1949. The Preamble was the last to be adopted.
  • The Second Reading of the Constitution was completed on 16 November 1949 and on the next day the Assembly took the Third Reading, with a motion by Dr. Ambedkar “that the Constitution as settled by the assembly be passed”.
  • The motion was adopted on 26 November 1949 and thus on that day, the people of India in the Constituent Assembly Adopted, enacted and gave to themselves the Constitution of the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India.
  • The Constitution was finally signed by members of the Constituent Assembly on 24 January 1950 — the last day of the Assembly.
  • It took 2 years, 11 months and 17 days to frame the Constitution.

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Who exercised the most profound influence in framing the Indian Constitution?

The Government of India Act 1935 exercised the most profound influence in framing the Indian Constitution.

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Last updated: August 18, 2023 Updated on 8:57 AM