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The Indian Council Act, 1892

The Indian Council’s Act, 1892

  • The Indian Councils Act 1892 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that authorized an increase in the size of the various legislative councils in British India.

Background

  • The growth of the Indian Constitution after the Act of 1861 is largely the story of political disaffection and agitation alternating with Council reform.
    • The reforms grudgingly conceded were always found inadequate, occasioned disaffection and evoked demand for further reforms.
    • It is true of all subsequent Acts passed by the British Parliament relating to India, namely the Acts of 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935.
  • The Legislative Council created by the Act of 1861, naturally enough, failed to satisfy the aspirations of the people of the land.
    • The element of non officials, negligible as it was, did not even represent the people.
    • It consisted of either big zamindars, retired officials or Indian princes, none of whom could claim to understand the problems of the people.
  • The initial objective of the Congress was to mobilise public opinion in India, to ventilate the grievances of the people and to press for reforms in a constitutional but nonetheless in an emphatic manner.
  • Before the Act of 1892 was passed, the Indian National Congress had adopted some resolutions in its sessions in 1885 and 1889 and put its demand.
    • One of the demand was: Reforms of the legislative council and adoption of the principle of election in place of nomination and and all budgets should be referred to these Councils for consideration.
    • The Indian leaders wanted admission of a considerable number of the elected members.
    • The Indian leaders wanted a right to discussion on budget matters.
    • They also wanted the creation of similar councils of North western Province and Oudh and also for Punjab
    • These demands reflected the dissatisfaction of the Indian National Congress over the existing system of governance.
  • In the beginning the attitude of the British Government was friendly and sympathetic towards the Congress but by 1888 that attitude changed.
    • Lord Dufferin in that year made a frontal attack on the Congress by dubbing it as representing only ‘a microscopic minority’ and Congress demands as ‘a big jump into the unknown’.
  • Though Lord Dufferin thus tried to belittle the importance and representative character of the Congress he was astute to realise the significance of the movement launched by the Congress and he secretly sent to England proposals for liberalising the Councils.
    • He also appointed a Committee of his Council to prepare a plan for the enlargement of Provincial Councils, for the enhancement of their status, the multiplication of their functions, the partial introduction in them of the elective principle and the liberalisation of their general character as political institutions.
    • At the same time he declared in plain words that it should not be concluded that he was contemplating to set up a parliamentary system after the British model. He repudiated strongly any such intention on his part.
    • The report of the Committee together with Lord Dufferin’s own views was sent to the authorities in England proposing changes in the composition and functions of the Councils with the main aim to give a still wider share in the administration of public affairs to such Indian gentlemen as their influence is fitted to assist with their counsel the responsible rulers of the country.
  • The Conservative Ministry in England at the instance of Lord Cross, Secretary of state for India, introduced in 1890 a bill in the House of Lords on the basis of these proposals but the measure proceeded at a slow speed and was passed only two years later as the Indian Councils Act.

Provisions of the Act

  • The Act dealt exclusively with the powers, functions and composition of the Legislative Councils in India.
  • The Central Legislature:
    • The Act increased the number of the additional (non-official) members in councils to between 10 and 16.
      • The Council now had:
        • 6 officials,
        • 5 nominated non-officials,
        • 4 nominated by the provincial legislative councils of Bengal Presidency, Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency and North-Western Provinces and
        • 1 nominated by the chamber of commerce in Calcutta.
        • The law member was made a permanent member.
        • In 1892, the council consisted of 24 members, only five being where Indians.
      • The increase was described as ‘a very paltry and miserable addition’. But Curzon defended it on the ground “that the efficiency of a deliberative body is not necessarily commensurate with its numerical strength”.
      • Subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in Council, the Governor General was to make regulations under which the nomination of the additional members was to be made.
    • The Act also provided that two-fifths of the total members of the Council were to be non officials. These non officials were partly nominated and partly elected.
      • The principle of election was conceded to a limited extent. An element of election was sought to be introduced for the first time.
    • The rights of the members of the Legislatures were increased.
      • They were entitled to express their views upon Budget which were henceforth to be made on the floor of the Legislatures.
        • But they were not empowered to move resolutions or divide the House in respect of any financial question.
      • They were empowered to put questions within certain limits to the Government on matters of public interest after giving a six days’ notice.
      • But no right to ask supplementary questions.
  • The provincial legislature:
    • The Act enlarged the number of ‘additional’ members:
      • In case of Bombay and Madras 8-20,
      • in case of the Bengal 20,
      • in case of North Western province and Oudh 15.
    • Hence the Councils in Bombay, Madras and Bengal had a maximum of twenty additional members.
      • Of these, nine were officials, four nominated non officials and seven elected.
      • The electing bodies in the provinces were District Broads and Municipalities, Universities and Chambers of Commerce.
    • In their functions the members of the Provincial Legislatures secured the right of interpellation of the executive in the matters of general public interest.
    • They could also discuss the policy of the Government and ask questions, which required a six days’ previous notice. And their questions too (like centre) could be disallowed without assigning any reason.
  • The Principle of Election under the Act:
    • The significant feature of the Act was the principle of election which it introduced, though the word ‘election’ was very carefully avoided in it.
    • Central Legislature:
      • In addition to the officials, the Central Legislature was to have elected non officials whose number was to be five and who were to be elected:
        • one each by the non-official members of the four Provincial Legislatures of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and the North Western Provinces and
        • one by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce.
      • The other five non officials were nominated by the Governor General.
    • Provincial Legislature:
      • In the case of the Provincial Legislatures, the bodies permitted to elect members were:
        • Municipalities,
        • District Boards,
        • Universities and
        • the Chambers of Commerce.
    • The ‘elected’ members were officially declared as ‘nominated’ though after taking into consideration the recommendation of the bodies described above (to avoid the word ‘election’).

Significance

  • The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was an advance on the Act of 1861.
  • The act of 1892 can be said to be a First step towards the beginning of the parliamentary system in India.
  • The principle of election, veiled though it was in the Act of 1892, was a measure of considerable constitutional significance.
  • The Act of 1892 widened the functions of the legislatures.
    • The members could ask questions and thus obtain information which they desired from the executive.
    • The financial accounts of the current year and the budget for the following year were presented to the legislatures, and the members were permitted to make general observations on the budget and make suggestions for increasing or decreasing revenue or expenditure.
    • At least, they were enabled to indulge in a criticism of the Financial Policy of the Government.
  • As the functions of the legislatures were widened they attracted the country’s best talent.
    • Eminent Indian leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Ashutosh Mookerjee, Rash Behari Ghosh and Surendra Nath Banerjee found their way in the Legislatures.
    • Their eloquence and political wisdom amply demonstrated the parliamentary capacity and patriotism of the educated Indians.
  • The size of the Legislatures both at the Centre and in the Provinces was enlarged.
    • In case of the Centre the maximum and minimum of additional members and the element of non officials therein were raised by four in each case as compared to the Act of 1861.
  • Criticism:
    • The Act failed to satisfy Indian nationalists and was criticised at successive sessions of the Indian National Congress.
    • The goal of the representative government was yet a far cry.
    • The system of election in the Act was a roundabout one.
      • The so-called right of election to the Legislatures enjoyed by the local bodies and by other electorates amounted merely to nomination by these bodies, but it was up to the government to accept them or reject them.
    • The rules of election were unsatisfactory. Certain classes were over represented while others did not get any representation at all.
      • In the case of Bombay, out of six seats two were given to European merchants but none to the Indian mercantile community.
      • Two seats were assigned to Sind but none to Poona and Satara.
    • The functions of the Legislative Councils were strictly limited.
      • The members could not ask supplementary questions.
      • Any question could be disallowed and there was no remedy against it.
      • The Councils did not get any substantial control over the budget.
      • In his Presidential address delivered in 1893 at the Lahore session of the Congress, Dadabhai Naoroji observed:
        • By the Act of 1892 no member shall have the power to submit or propose any resolution or divide the Council in respect of any such financial discussion or in answer to any question asked under the authority of this Act or the rules made under this Act. Such is the poor character of the extent of the concession made to discuss finances or to put questions. Rules made under this Act shall not be subject to alterations or amendment at meetings for the purpose of making laws and regulations. Thus , we are to all intent and purposes under an arbitrary rule.”
    • The Act was policy of the British for gradually involving Indians in the British administrative structure with the object of preventing any major upsurge from the nationalist front by creating a permanent group of loyalists.
    • Contrary to the Congress faith in the policy of petition, prayer and protest, the Indian Councils Act did not satisfy the public demand. The congress way of demand was seen as a weakness by the British Government. This was evident from the following note by BG Tilak:“……political rights will have to be fought for. The moderates think that these can be won by persuasion. We Think that they can only be obtained by strong Pressure…”
  • Though the Act of 1892 fell far short of the demands made by the Congress it was undoubtedly a great advance on the existing state of things. By conceding the principle of election of representatives and giving the Legislature some control over the Executive, the Act did pave the way for the introduction of parliamentary responsible government in India.

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