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Council, The


Council, The worked as the highest body of the east india company's government, first for Bengal, and later for India. The term 'council' originates from the structure of the company's business organisation in Bengal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A chief assisted by a council then administered the company's factories or business concerns. The statutory designation of the chief was 'Chief and Council of Factors'. The entire group of factories in a region was called a 'settlement', the head of which was designated as 'Chief'. Informally he was also called governor in imitation of the governors of Bombay and Madras. The English settlement in Bengal was shifted from Hughli to Calcutta in 1690. Under the Charter Act of 1700, the settlement was declared a presidency and the designation of the chief was changed to 'Governor and Council of the Presidency of the Fort William in Bengal'. The Charter Acts of 1726 and 1753 authorised the Fort William Council to make byelaws and ordinances for the 'good government of Calcutta town and places subordinate to Fort William'. The Charter Act of 1753 invested the Governor and Council with both civil and military powers.

The 'Council' system of administration of the affairs of the East India Company in Bengal was transformed into a supreme political authority under the regulating act of 1773. Under this Act, the former 'Governor and Council' was renamed as 'Governor General and Council of the fort william in Bengal'. The Governor General and four other members appointed by parliament constituted the council. Under the regulating act, the council was made a collective authority in the sense that all resolutions of the council had to be passed by a majority vote of the members of the council. The Governor General, however, had the privilege of a casting vote if and when the council members including the president split into equal numbers on any issue. This democratic system did not work well. The administration of warren hastings was bedeviled by the non-cooperation of the majority of Council members. For governing a colonial state, such a democratic system was perceived by parliament as a risky defect. Thus under pitt's india act of 1784 the powers of the council members were curbed and the Governor General was given predominance over the councillors. The council was now redesignated as 'Governor General-in-Council of the Fort William in Bengal'. The Commander-in-Chief of the British army in India became an ex-officio member of the council. The constitutional title of the council changed again in 1833 when it was named as 'Governor General of India-in-Council'.

This nomenclature of the council continued to the end of the company regime in 1858. Under the Government of India Act of 1858, the company's rule over India lapsed to the Crown-in-Parliament and henceforth two councils were set up to govern India: one in London, another in Calcutta. The first was called the 'Council of India' consisting of fifteen members appointed by parliament and headed by a cabinet member designated as 'Secretary of State for India-in-Council'. The other was styled as the 'Council of the Governor General of India'. From the enactment of the Council Act of 1861 began the growth of representative government in Bengal and in other provinces of British India. Bengal got under this Act a legislative council, which finally grew into a full-blown legislative body under the India Acts of 1919 and 1935. Under the India Act of 1935, the Bengal legislature had two chambers, the upper chamber of which was called the Bengal Legislative Council and the lower chamber, the Bengal Legislative Assembly. With the end of British rule in 1947, the council system disappeared. [Sirajul Islam]