The Pitt’s India Act (1784)

  • Pitt the Younger became the youngest Prime Minister of England in 1783 at the age of 24.Pitt was an outstanding administrator who worked for efficiency and reform, bringing in a new generation of outstanding administrators.
  • The East India Company Act 1784, also known as Pitt’s India Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain intended to address the shortcomings of the Regulating Act of 1773 by bringing the East India Company’s rule in India under the control of the British Government.
  • British Government enacted the Regulating Act in 1773 to control the activities of the Company. The Act set up a system whereby it supervised (regulated) the work of the Company but did not take power for itself. The Act had proven to be a failure within a few years and the British government decided to take a more active role in the affairs of the Company.
  • Pitt’s India Act established the system of dual control of India by the government of Great Britain and the British East India Company. These changes continued till 1858.

Provisions of the 1784 Act:

  • With the Pitts India Act of 1784, East India Company’s political functions were differentiated from its commercial activities.
  • In political matters, the company which was till now working as somewhat sovereign was made directly subordinate to the British government.
    • To enable this, a Board of Commissioners was created, which was called Board of Control.
    • 6 people viz. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State, and four Privy Councilors, nominated by the King were the members of this Board of Control.
    • The Secretary of the State was entitled as the President of the Board of Control. This Board of control was empowered to control all matters of civil or military government or revenues.
    • The board was given full access to the company’s records. It had the powers to send Governors to India and full authority to alter them.
    • Result of Creation of Board of Control:
      1. The Pitts India Act 1734 actually provided for a joint government of the company and British crown in India. So now, the fate of India People would decide the company and the British Government (indirectly).
      2. The Company was to be represented by the Court of Directors and the Crown was represented by the Board of Control.
      3. There was a secret committee of the 3 directors, which had to transmit the orders of the Board to India. This Secret Committee was to work as a link between the Board of control and the Court of Directors.
      4. The Board of control had no independent executive power.It had no patronage. Its power was veiled. It had access to all the Company’s papers and its approval was necessary for all dispatches that were not purely commercial, and in case of emergency the Board could send its own draft to the Secret Committee of the Directors to be signed and sent out in its name.
  • Impact on Governor General-in Council:
    1. The Governor General’s council was now reduced to 3 members, one of whom was to be the commander-in-chief of the King’s army in India. The governor-general, a crown appointee, was authorised to veto the majority decisions.
    2. The Governor General was given the right of casting vote, in case the members present in a meeting of the council shall any time be equally divided in opinion.
    3. The Governors of Presidencies of Bombay and Madras were deprived of their independent powers and Calcutta was given greater powers in matters of war, revenue, and diplomacy, thus Calcutta becoming in effect, the capital of Company possessions in India.
    4. The Governor General Council was now under indirect control of the British Government through the Board of Control.
  • By a supplementary act passed in 1786 Lord Cornwallis was appointed as the second governor-general of Bengal, and he then became the effective ruler of British India under the authority of the Board of Control and the Court of Directors. Act of 1786 : Governor General given the power to over – ride the council and was made Commander – in – Chief also.
  • Disclosing of Property:All civil and military officers of the East India Company were ordered to provide the Court of Directors a full inventory of their property in India and in Britain within two months of their joining their posts. Severe punishment was provisioned for corrupt officials.
  • The constitution set up by Pitt’s India Act did not undergo any major changes until the end of the company’s rule in India in 1858.

Assessment of Pitts India Act 1784:

  • This Act removed many faults of Regulating Act 1773.
  • It ended an inappropriate division of authority in India by making the Governor-General supreme over the subordinate governments of Bombay and Madras.
  • By reducing Governor General Council’s members to three, it removed one of the shortcoming of Regulating Act 1773, as now Governor General found easier to get majority in any decision and in case of tie, he had final say.
  • The act was deemed a failure. This was because; very soon it became apparent that the boundaries between government control and the company’s powers were nebulous and highly subjective.The act was a naive one, it divided the responsibility between the Board of Control, Court of Directors and the Governor General in Council but again , no boundaries could be fixed as they matter was subjective and not objective.
  • The British Government felt obliged to respond to humanitarian calls for better treatment of local peoples in British-occupied territories. The Board of control was alleged for nepotism.
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