Viceroy’s Executive Council and The Imperial Legislative Council

Viceroy’s Executive Council and The Imperial Legislative Council

(A)Viceroy’s Executive Council

  • The Viceroy’s Executive Council was the cabinet of the government of British India headed by the Viceroy of India. It was transformed from an advisory council into a cabinet run by the portfolio system by the Indian Councils Act 1861.
  • The Government of India Act 1858 transferred the power of the East India Company to the British Crown which was empowered to appoint a Viceroy and Governor-General of India to head the government in India. The advisory council of the Governor-General was based in the capital Calcutta and consisted of four members, three of which were appointed by the Secretary of State for India and one by the Sovereign.
  • The Indian Councils Act 1861 transformed the Viceroy of India’s executive council into a cabinet run on the portfolio system. Three members were to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India, and two by the Sovereign. The five ordinary members took charge of a separate department: home, revenue, military, “law and finance”. The military Commander-in-Chief sat in with the council as an extraordinary member. The Viceroy was allowed, under the provisions of the Act, to overrule the council on affairs if he deemed it necessary. In 1869, the power to appoint all five members was passed to the Crown and in 1874, a new member was added to be in charge of public works.
  • The Indian Councils Act 1909 empowered the Governor General to nominate one Indian member to the Executive Council leading to the appointment of Satyendra Prasanno Sinha as the first Indian member. The Government of India Act 1919 increased the number of Indians in the council to three.

Main Indians in the Council (1909-1946):

  • Law Members: Satyendra Prasanno Sinha (1909–1914), P. S. Sivaswami Iyer (1912–1917), Syed Ali Imam, Muhammad Shafi (1924–1928), Tej Bahadur Sapru (1920–1923)Bepin Behary Ghose (1933)
  •  Education: C. Sankaran Nair (1915–1919), Muhammad Shafi: Education (1919–1924)
  • Revenue and Agriculture: B. N. Sarma (1920–1925)
  • Health, Education and Lands: Muhammad Habibullah (1925–1930),Girija Shankar Bajpai (1940)
  • C. P. Ramaswami Iyer: Law (1931–1932), Commerce (1932), Information (1942)
  • Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (1935–1941): Commerce (–1939), Law (1939–), Railway, Industries and Labour, and War Supply


  • On 8 August 1940, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow made a proposal called the August Offer which expanded the Executive Council to include more Indians.

Interim Government:

  • As per the Cabinet Mission Plan, the Executive Council was expanded to consist of only Indian members except the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief. This formed the Interim Government of India.

(B)The Imperial Legislative Council

  • The Imperial Legislative Council  was a legislature for British India from 1861 to 1947. It succeeded the Council of the Governor-General of India, and was succeeded by the Constituent Assembly of India and pakistan.


  • The Regulating Act of 1773 limited the influence of the Governor-General of India and established the Council of Four, elected by theEast India Company’s Court of Directors. Pitt’s India Act of 1784 reduced the membership to three, and also established the India Board.
  • During the rule of the East India Company, the council of the Governor-General of India had both executive and legislative responsibilities. The council had four members of the Council elected by the Court of Directors. The first three members were permitted to participate on all occasions, but the fourth member was only allowed to sit and vote when legislation was being debated. Council elected by the Court of Directors.
  • In 1858, the British Crown took over the administration from the East India Company. The council was transformed into the Imperial Legislative Council, and the Court of Directors of the Company which had the power to elect members of the Governor-General’s Council ceased to have this power. Instead, the one member who had a vote only on legislative questions came to be appointed by the Sovereign, and the other three members by the Secretary of State for India.


  • The Indian Councils Act 1861 made several changes to the Council’s composition. The council was now called the Governor-General’s Legislative Council or the Imperial Legislative Council.
  • Three members were to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India, and two by the Sovereign. (The power to appoint all five members passed to the Crown in 1869.)
  • The Governor-General was empowered to appoint an additional six to twelve members. The five individuals appointed by the Indian Secretary or Sovereign headed the executive departments, while those appointed by the Governor-General debated and voted on legislation.
  • There were 45 Indians nominated as additional non-official members from 1862 to 1892. Out of these 25 were zamindars and 7 were rulers of princely states. The others were lawyers, magistrates, journalists and merchants. The participation of the Indian members in the council meetings was negligible.
  • First three Indian members were: Raja Sir Deo Narayan Singh of Benaras (Jan 1862-1866), Narendra Singh, Maharaja of Patiala (Jan 1862-1864), Dinkar Rao (Jan 1862-1864).


  • The Indian Councils Act 1892 increased the number of legislative members with a minimum of ten and maximum of sixteen members. 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 members were allowed to ask questions in the Council but not allowed to ask supplementaries or discuss the answer. They were however empowered to discuss the annual financial statement under certain restrictions but could not vote on it.
  • Some important Indian members in this period were: Pherozeshah Mehta, Bombay (1893-1901),Aga Khan III, nominated (1903)Syed Hussain Bilgrami (1902-1908)Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bombay (1903-1909).


  • The Indian Councils Act 1909 increased the number of members of the Legislative Council to 60, of whom 27 were to be elected.
  • It effectively allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time. Previously some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils.There were six Muslim representatives, the first time that such representation had been given to a religious group.The composition of the Council was as follows:
    • Ex-officio members from the Viceroy’s Executive Council (9)
    • Nominated officials (28)
    • Nominated non-officials (5): Indian commercial community (1), Punjab Muslims (1), Punjab Landholders (1), Others (2)
    • Elected from provincial legislatures (27)


  • Under the Government of India Act 1919, the Imperial Legislative Council was converted into a bicameral legislature with the Imperial Legislative Assembly (also known as the Central Legislative Assembly) as the lower house of a bicameral legislature and the Council of State as the upper house, reviewing legislation passed by the Assembly.
  • The Governor-General nonetheless retained significant power over legislation. He could authorise the expenditure of money without the Legislature’s consent for “ecclesiastical, political and defence” purposes, and for any purpose during “emergencies”. He was permitted to veto, or even stop debate on, any bill. If he recommended the passage of a bill, but only one chamber co-operated, he could declare the bill passed over the objections of the other chamber. The Legislature had no authority over foreign affairs and defence. The President of the Council of State was appointed by the Governor-General; the Central Legislative Assembly elected its own President, apart from the first, but the election required the Governor-General’s approval.
  • Under the Indian Independence Act 1947, the Imperial Legislative Council and its houses were dissolved on 14 August 1947 and was replaced by the Constituent Assembly of India and the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

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