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Bengal Legislative Council


Bengal Legislative Council was first formed in 1862 under the Indian Councils Act of 1861. A three year term Legislative Council for Bengal was established with the Lieutenant Governor as its head. It consisted of twelve members nominated by the Lieutenant Governor from amongst the native gentry and Anglo-Indian interests. Making laws and regulations became the principal job of the Council. This was the beginning of the series of constitutional reforms culminating in the India Act of 1935 and finally the India Independence Act of 1947. Lieutenant Governor of Bengal became the ex-officio president of the council.'

Act of 1861 The members of the first council were - T.H. Cowie, AR. Young, HDH Ferguson, EH Lushington, Baboo Rama Persud Roy, Moulvy abdool luteef, John N Bullen, William Maitland, ATT Peterson, Rajah Pertaub Chand Sing, Baboo Prusunno Coomar Tagore and W. Moran. Of the twelve members, four were government officials, four non-government Anglo-Indians, and four were Bengali bhadralok. The council used to meet every Saturday at 11 am. The Lieutenant Governor had the discretion to nominate members with the consent of the Governor General and Viceroy. Though he could nominate maximum twelve members to the council, he also had the discretion to nominate less than twelve members. From 1861 to 1893, one hundred twenty three members were nominated to the council. Among them only 49 were Indian members, 35 were members of British Indian Association and 26 were title holders.

Act of 1892 Under the Act of 1892, the Council was expanded to twenty members of whom seven were to be nominated by the Ltn. Governor on the recommendation of the Corporation of Calcutta, Municipalities, District Boards, Calcutta University and Bengal Chamber of Commerce. The Council got the privilege to discuss the budget but not vote upon it. Members could, however, address questions to the Executive. Because the members were nominated on the ground of unquestionable loyalty to the Raj, the Executive never faced any opposition. But members made sometimes-spicy questions. For example, once in 1895, Sir surendranath banerjea drew his attention to the fact that for four crore people of the UK, there were 670 members in their parliament, whereas, for seven crore people of Bengal, there were only ten members. For this question, he received no answer other than only a short-lived smile from the chair. Again, in 1899 Ramesh Chandra Dutta, President of the Congress, put up a demand that there must be at least one member from each district of Bengal to make the council seemingly representative. Such observations from the members only indicate that the educated gentry of the country were keen about having a representative rather than a nominative council.

Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909 The next piece of constitutional reform came under the Indian Council Act of 1909, what came to be known as morley-minto reforms after the name of Governor General Lord Minto and Secretary of State John morley.

To secure the support of the political moderates and the British sponsored aristocracies, the Council was enlarged with elected elements and increased legislative powers under the Indian Council Act of 1909. In order to bring the backward Muslim community to the level of the Hindus politically and also to enlist the support from the Muslims, who formed the majority community in the country, separate electorate was introduced for them as a temporary measure. Against the popular demands for larger representation the Council Act of 1909 was amended in 1912 and the number of Council members was raised to 53. The seats were distributed according to communities, professions, municipalities, District Boards, University, Landholders, Muhammedan, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Calcutta Traders Association. Governor of the province presided over the Council.

The new province of eastern bengal and assam got a Council of 6o members. The Council of the Lieutenant Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam assembled for the purpose of making Laws and Regulations under the Provisions of the Indian Council Acts, 1861, 1892 and 1909. The Council met for the first time on 18th December 1906 at the Governor's House, Dhaka and last time on 18 March 1912, when Bengal was reunited.

Up to 1920 the Legislative Council played the role of an advisory body. It had no power to discuss on the budget and take any resolution on it. The Montegu-Chelmsford Reform Act of 1919 increased the non official representation as well as the power of the Council. Now, majority members of the Council were to be elected. The propertied people got voting right. Indirect election was abolished. 70% of the members were to be elected and the rest nominated. Landholders, commercial and planting interests, Universities got special representation. Education, Local self Government, Public Health, Public Works, Agriculture and Cooperative Societies were made transferred subjects to be administered by the elected representatives. The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Executive Council. Reserved subjects included finance, police, land revenue, law, justice and labour. The Executive Council comprised of four members, half of whom were to be Indians. Instead of the governor, now the president and deputy president of the council would to be elected members.

Montegu-Chelmsford Reforms, 1919 Under the Act of 1919, the designation of the 'Governor of the Presidency of the Fort William in Bengal' was changed to simply 'Governor of Bengal'. The Council was to be now presided not by the governor, but by a president elected by the Council. Total number of members of the Council was raised to 140. The Congress and Swarajya Party, though a majority in the Council, refused to cooperate with the government and form a ministry. They boycotted the Council until the Act was amended in conformity with their demands for eliminating separate electorate system and Diarchy. But there were many Council members who supported the constitution and they formed the ministry. For the first time the elected representatives got executive powers as ministers. The first elected ministers were:

Sir Surendra Nath Banerjea for Local Self Government and Public Health;

Provash Chunder Mitter for Education and Registration;

Nawab Saiyid Nawab Ali Chaudhuri for agriculture and public works.

The operation of the Diarchy Council was eclipsed by the political unrest and non-cooperation of the Congress and their allies. The constitutional deadlock came under the consideration of the simon commission (1930), nehru report (1928), Round Table Conferences (1930-32). The constitutional impasse was removed by the declaration of the British Prime Minister giving the guideline of the next piece of constitutional reforms towards a responsible government. The declaration came to be known as communal award (1932). The Congress and other parties had reservations about various aspects of the Award, but Parliament passed the Act (1935) with the provisions for responsible government with adult franchise. Under the Act of 1935, general elections were held.

Under the Government of India Act 1935, six of the eleven provinces of British India got double chambers: the upper Chamber called Legislative Council and the Lower Chamber called the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Council- the Upper Chamber was a permanent body consisting of minimum 63 and maximum of 65 members and the Legislative Assembly- the Lower Chamber, consisting of 250 members. The distribution of the seats of the Legislative Council was as follows:

General seats - 10

Muhammedan seats - 17

European seats 3

Seats to be nominated by Legislative Assembly 27 Seats to be nominated by Governor not less than '6 and not more than 8'.

The Legislative Council the Upper Chamber was to be a permanent body but one-third member of which will retire every year.

Bengal Legislative Assembly' under the Government of India Act, 1935, the allocation of seats in the Bengal Legislative Assembly was as follows:

Total seats: 250

Distribution:

General seats 78 (urban 12, rural 66 and reserved scheduled caste 30)

Muhammedan seats 117 (urban 6 and rural 111)

Anglo-Indian seats 3

European seats 11

Indian Christian seats 2

Commerce, Industries, Planting seats 19

Landholders seats 5

Labour representatives 8

University representative 2 (Dacca 1 and Calcutta 1)

Women seats: 5 (General 2, Muhammedan 2 and Anglo India 1)

Due to war situation and Hindu-Muslim communal disturbances, the government found it politically wise not to hold the Legislative Assembly elections due in 1940 and 1943. The first and last elections of the Bengal Legislative Assembly before partition (1947) were held on 19-22 March 1946. The election results stood as follows:

Muslim League 113; Congress 86; Independent Hindu 13; Independent Muslim 9; Others 29

The muslim league formed the government headed by hs suhrawardy. [Sirajul Islam]