The Charter Act of 1833

The Charter Act of 1833

  • The Government of India Act 1833 or The Charter Act of 1833 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and it gave another lease of life to the Company for next 20 years.
    • The charter was renewed for another 20 years, but the company was asked to close its commercial business.
    • Thus, this time the charter was renewed on the condition that Company should abandon its trade entirely, alike with India and China, and permit Europeans to settle freely in India.
    • The act, first of all, threw open judicial positions to Indians and provided for the appointment of a law commission for codification of laws.


  • The 20 years renewal of the charter in 1813 ran out in 1833.
  • 20 Years between Charter Act of 1813 and 1833 witnessed great changes in England. Industrial Revolution had made great impact.
    • Cheap products of the new machines and their export overseas widened the outlook of the people.
    • Class consciousness gave a new tone to British politics. A new class of intelligentsia emerged to take up matters on behalf of the labourers.
  • In 1830, the Whigs came into power and opened the way for the triumph of the liberal principles. The gospel of the Rights of Man was openly preached and the doctrine of free trade was widely accepted.
  • The political atmosphere in Britain at that time was also fully charged with enthusiasm for reform, as the Reform Act of 1832 had just been passed.
  • It was in this atmosphere of reform and liberal ideas that the Parliament was called upon to view the Charter of the Company in 1833.
  • This was the time for the government to do a careful assessment of the functioning of the company in India.
    • When the charter was again due for renewal in 1833, there was a fresh and more widespread agitation in Britain for the abolition of the Company and a direct takeover of the Indian administration by the government.
    • But this view was not shared by the majority in the Parliament and it agreed with Macaulay that the Company’s rule in India had to be continued though on a different basis.
    • A parliamentary inquiry was held, and the Act of 1833, which followed from its recommendations, became a landmark in the constitutional history of India.
  • Macaulay was the Secretary to the Board of Control and James Mill, a disciple of Bentham, occupied a high position at the India House. They influenced the Charter Act of 1833

Provisions of the Act:

(1) India as a British Colony:

  • The charter act of 1813 legalized the British colonization of India and the territorial possessions of the company were allowed to remain under its government, but were held “in trust for his majesty” for the service of Government of India.
  • It ended the activities of the British East India Company as a commercial body and became a purely administrative body.
    • In particular, the company lost its monopoly in China and also the trade of tea which it enjoyed with Charter act of 1813.
    • Henceforth the Company was meant only to have political functions, and here too the Indian possessions of the Company were to be held in trust for the British Crown.
  • It redesignated the Governor-General of Bengal as the Governor-General of India.
    • Thus with Charter Act of 1833, Lord William Bentinck became the “First Governor General of British India”.
    •  The Governor General of India, in consultation with his council, control all civil, military and revenue matters in the whole of India.
  • The Governor-General in council was given the power to control, superintend and direct the civil and military affairs of the Company.
    • With the extension of territories and influx of British settlers into India, there was need for uniform laws. The governor general in council was, therefore, empowered to legislate for the whole of British territories in India and these laws were to be applicable to all persons, British or Indian.
    • Central government was to have complete control over raising of revenues and expenditure. i.e. All financial and administrative powers were centralized in the hands of Governor General-in-Council.
  • The number of the members of the Governor General’s council was again fixed to 4, which had been reduced by the Pitt’s India act to 3. However, certain limits were imposed on the functioning of the 4th member.
    • The 4th member was not entitled to act as a member of the council except for legislative purposes.
    • First fourth person to be appointed as the law member of the Council was Lord Macaulay.
  • The President of the Board of Control now became the Minister for Indian Affairs, while the board was empowered to superintend all administrative affairs in India.

(2) Split in Bengal Presidency:

  • The Charter Act of 1833 provided for splitting the Presidency of Bengal, into two presidencies which were to be known as, Presidency of Fort William and Presidency of Agra.
    • But this provision never came into effect, and was suspended later.

(3) Enhanced Power of Governor General of India:

  • It deprived the Governors of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers.
  • The Governor-General was given exclusive legislative powers for the whole of British India.
  • Governor-General-in-Council could repeal, amend or alter any laws or regulations including all persons (whether British or native or foreigners), all places and things in every part of British territory in India, for all servants of the company, and articles of war.
  • However, the Court of Directors acting under the Board of control could veto any laws made by the Governor-General-in-Council.

(4) Codifying the Laws:

  • The charter act of 1833 is considered to be an attempt to codify all the Indian Laws. The British parliament as a supreme body, retained the right to legislate for the British territories in India and repeal the acts.
  • The act of 1833 provided that all laws made in India were to be laid before the parliament and were to be known as Acts.
  • In a step towards codifying the laws, the Act of 1833 authorized the Governor-General to appoint Indian Law Commissioners to study, collate and codify various rules and regulations prevalent in India.
    • The Governor-General-in-Council was directed under the Charter act of 1833, to set up an Indian law Commission.
  • First Indian Law Commission:
    • The first law commission was set up by the Charter act of 1833 and Lord Macaulay was its Chairman.
    • The objectives of the law commission was to inquire into the Jurisdiction, powers and rules of the courts of justice police establishments, existing forms of judicial procedure, nature and operation of all kinds of laws.
    • It was directed that the law Commission shall submit its report to the Governor General-in-council and this report was to be placed in the British parliament.
  • The law commission appointed under Lord Macaulay completed the task of codification by 1837, but it had to wait until after the revolt of 1857 for full implementation.
    • The Code of Civil Procedure was introduced in 1859, the Indian Penal Code in 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code in 1862.
    • The new codes, as Radhika Singha has argued, sought to establish “the universal principles of jurisprudence”, based on “a notion of indivisible sovereignty and its claims over an equal abstract and universal legal subject”.

(5) Indians in the Government service:

  • The section 87 of the Charter Act of 1833, declared that merit was to be the basis for employment in Government Services and the religion, birth place, and race of the candidates were not to be considered in employment.
  • This policy was not seen in any other previous acts. So the Charter act of 1833 was the first act which provisioned to freely admit the natives of India to share an administration in the country.
    • Though Company’s services in India were thrown open to the natives; but there was no provision for their being nominated to the covenanted services.
  • It attempted to introduce a system of open competitions for the selection of civil servants.
    • However this provision was negated after opposition from the Court of Directors who continued to hold the privilege of appointing Company officials.
    • It was limited competition among the candidates nominated by the directors and therefore could not improve the situation.
    • Finally, the Charter Act of 1853 introduced the principle of open competition; civil servants for India were henceforth to be recruited through an examination open to all “natural born subject of Her Majesty”.

(6) Mitigation of Slavery:

  • This act also directed the Governor General-in-Council to adopt measures to mitigate the state of slavery, persisting in India.
    • Slavery had been abolished in Britain in 1820, and in India the colonial administrators continued to detect its existence in various forms.
  • Finally by the Act V of 1843, the slavery was abolished in India.
  • The Governor General-in-Council was also directed to pay attention to laws of marriage, rights and authorities of the heads of the families, while drafting any laws.

(7) More Bishops:

  • The number of British residents was increasing in India.
  • The charter act of 1833 laid down regulation of establishment of Christian establishments in India and the number of Bishops was made 3.

Significance of the Act of 1833

  • The Act of 1833 brought important and far reaching changes in the constitution of India.
    • The Company was relieved of its monopoly of tea trade in India and of the trade with China, thus completing the work of the Charter Act of 1813.
    • The Company having lost its commercial privileges could now concentrate on administration.
  • The provision for the codification of law was of great consequences.
    • Before 1833, laws were so imperfect that in many cases it was quite impossible to ascertain what the law was. There were several types of laws enforceable in India and it was difficult to decide as to which law was applicable in a particular case.
  • The provisions concerning the abolition of slavery and the throwing open to all, irrespective of religion, place of birth, descent and color, services in India are other commendable features of the Act.
  • Drain of wealth:
    • The debts of the Company were taken over by the Indian government which agreed to pay its shareholders a 10.5% dividend on their capital out of the Indian revenues for the next 40 years.
    • This added to the burden of India and proved to be an important component of drain of wealth.

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