The Indian Council Act, 1892
The Indian council Act of 1892 introduced several reforms and significantly introduced the system of election.
The Indian constitution came into existence after the Act of 1861. The growth of the Indian constitution following Act of 1861 caused political disaffection and agitation alternating the Council reforms. The council reforms approved always found inadequate, hence stimulated disaffection and demand for the further reforms.
(Last Updated on : 22/01/2009)
The Legislative reforms created by the Acts of 1861, naturally though failed to meet the aspirations and the general demands of the people of the country. The element of non-officials, though small in number however did not represent the people. This group of non-officials belonged to the upper section or the aristocratic class of the Indian society. They consisted either of big zamindars, retired officials or Indian princess. These aristocrats were completely ignorant of the problems of the common people in India.
During the later half of the 19th century the current of nationalist spirit began to emerge in India. The setting up of the universities in the presidencies led to the development of education. The use of English by the educated Indians brought then close to one another. The gulf betweens the Indians and the British in the field of the Civil Services incited the rage of the Indians. Moreover the repressive Acts made by Lord Rippon, the Vernacular Press Act and the Indian Arms Act in the year 1878, greatly exasperated the feelings of the Indians. The controversy between the Government of India and the Government of England over the abolition of 5% cotton duties made the Indians aware of the injustice of the British Government. As a whole the hollowness and the insincerity of the British government was revealed to the Indians. It was under these circumstances the Indian National Congress was formed in the year 1885. The sole motto of the congress was to organize the public opinions in India, thereby ventilate their grievances and demand reforms constitutionally.
In the beginning though the attitudes of the British Governments to the Indian National Congress was friendly, yet by 1888, that attitudes changed when Lord Dufferin made a frontal attack on the Congress. Thus Lords Dufferin tried to belittle the importance of the representative characters of Congress. But he did not understand the significance of the movement launched by the congress. He secretly sent to England the proposals for liberalizing the Councils. He also appointed a committee of his council to prepare plans for the enlargement of the Provincial councils, for enhancement of their status, the multiplication of their functions, introduction of elective principles in the councils and the liberalization of their general character as political institutions. The report of the Committee was sent to the Home authorities in England proposing for the changes in the composition and functions of the Councils. The main aim of the reports was to give the Indian gentlemen wider share in the administration. The Conservative Ministry in England, introduced in the year 1890 a bill in the House of Lords on the basis of this proposals. But the measures adopted in the Bill were preceded very slowly and was passed two years later as the Indian Councils Act in the year 1892.
The Indian council act of 1892, dealt exclusively with the powers, functions and the compositions of the Legislative councils in India. With regard to the Central Legislature, the Councils Act of 1892 provided that the number additional members must not be less than ten or more than sixteen. The increase of the members of the central Legislature was described as a very paltry and miserable addition. But Curzon defended it on the ground that the efficiency of the deliberative body was not necessarily commensurate with the numerical strength. The council Act of 1892 upheld that two fifth of the total members council were to be non-officials. It had also been declared that non-officials were partly nominated and partly elected.
The principle of election conceded to a limited extent. The Indian Council Act of 1892 increased the members of the Legislatures. These members were entitled to express their views upon the financial statements. The statement on the financial affairs henceforth was decided to be prepared on the Legislature. But these legislative members were not entitled to move resolutions or divide the houses in respect of any financial question. These legislative members were empowered to put questions with certain limits to the government on matters of interest after giving a six days notice.
Regarding the provincial Legislature the Council Act enlarged the number of additional members to not less than eight or more than twenty in case of Bombay and Madras. The maximum for Bengal was also fixed at twenty. But for the northwestern province and Oudh, the number was fixed at fifteen. The members of the Provincial Legislature had to perform several functions. Their Chief function was to secure the interpellation of the executive in the matters of the general public interest. They could also discuss the policy of the government and ask questions, which required a thorough previous notice. Their questions could also be disallowed by the central government if necessary without assigning any reason.
The Indian Councils Act of 1892 introduced several new rules and regulations. However the significant feature of this Indian council Act was the procedures of election it introduced, though the word election was very carefully avoided in it. The Act envisaged that apart from the elected official members there should be elected non-official members, whose number was to be five. The non-official members of the Council were one to be elected by each of the non-official member of the four Provincial legislatures of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and the Northwestern province and one by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. The governor general nominated the other five non-officials himself. Ins cases of Provincial Legislatures, the bodies permitted to elects the members of Municipalities, District Boards, Universities ands the Chamber of commerce. The methods of election however were not mentioned in the clear terms. The "elected" members were officially declared as "nominated" although after taking into consideration the recommendation of each body. These Legislative bodies met in several sessions in order to prepare recommendations to the governor general or head of the Provincial Government. The person favored by the majority was not described as the "elected", rather they were directly recommended for nomination.
The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was undoubtedly an advance on the Act of 1861. The Act of 1892 widened the functions of the legislature. The members could ask questions ands thus obtain information, which they desired, from the executive. The Councils Act of 1892 made it obligatory that the financial accounts of the currents year and the budget for the following year should be presented in the legislature. The members were permitted to make general observations and on the budget and make suggestions for increasing or decreasing revenue and expenditure.
Apart from these the recognition of the principle of election introduced by the Acts of 1892, was a measure of constitutional significance. However there were several defects and shortcomings in the Acts of 1892 by the reason of which the Act failed to satisfy the Indians nationalists. The Act was criticized at successive sessions of the Indian national Congress. Critics haves opined that the procedure of election was a roundabout one. This was so because though theoretically the process of election was followed, in actuality these local bodies were the nominated members. Moreover the function of the legislative councils was strictly circumscribed. In conclusion it can be said that despite the fact that the Indian councils Act of 1892 fell far short of the demands made by the Indian National Congress, yet it was undoubtedly a great advance on the existing state of things.