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India Act, 1858


India Act, 1858 had abolished the rule of the east india company and replaced it by direct control of the Home Government. It was the upshot of the sepoy revolt of 1857. The revolt itself failed, but it succeeded in producing momentous changes in the administrative system of the Indian colonial state. The East India Company proved to have outlived its utility and effectiveness. British Government felt the need of establishing direct control of parliament over the British Indian government. Striking such a change was not difficult, because slow transfer of power from the company to parliament was taking place ever since the regulating act of 1772. The successive charter acts since then made the company a shadow of its former self by 1853.

Thus parliament resolved to take over Indian administration in its hand immediately after the revolt. On 2 August 1858 parliament enacted the Government of India Act under which Crown's rule was established abolishing that of the East India Company. The Act put an end to the dual authority exercised by the board of control and the court of directors.

The Act empowered the crown to appoint a secretary of state for india and some other Under Secretaries to assist him. A council consisting of fifteen members would counsel the Secretary of State in his Indian administration. The India Council included men of Indian experience. The members were given specific powers and their consent was needed for the appropriation and expenditure of the Indian revenue. Henceforth, the Secretary of State in Council would govern India. The Act defined the functions and powers of the Secretary of State, Under Secretaries, Council and the Governor General in Council. Secretary of State got the power to appoint the Governor General and members of his council.

In India the Governor General was to be the personal representative of the Crown and to assume the title of Viceroy. The title was, however, nothing more than an honorific. For the appointment of ordinary members of the Viceroy's Council the consent of the members of the Indian Council was needed. The Secretary of State could, however, act on his own authority in urgent and secret matters.

Superficially it might appear that the Act of 1858 was nothing more than a mere change of master but actually it effected considerable changes. Henceforth the Viceroy and Governor General was a mere 'agent' of the Secretary of State. [Muhammad Ansar Ali]