Historical background of Indian Constitution


  •  As we all know that the Britishers ruled India since they came as a trading company till Independence of India.
  • The British came to India in 1600 AD as traders in the form of East India Company which had exclusive right of trading in India.
  • The Powers of East India Company was granted by a charter issued by the then Queen of England, Elizabeth I.
  • The Company in 1765 obtained the ‘diwani’ (i.e. Rights over revenue & civil justice) of Bengal, Bihar & Odisha.
  • In the wake of the Sepoy mutiny, the British Crown in 1858 assumed direct responsibility for the governance of India.
  • This rule continued until India granted Independence.

Britishers from time to time made several laws to regulate India. They are given below in chronological order:

THE COMPANY RULE (1773-1858)

Regulating Act 1773

  • Enacting this act was the first step taken by the British Government to control and regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India.
  • It recognized the political and administrative functions of the company for the first time.
  • This act designated the governor of Bengal as the ‘Governor-General of Bengal’ and created an executive Council of four members to assist him.
  • The first such Governor-General was Lord Warren Hastings.
  • It made the Governors of Bombay and Madras Presidency subordinate to the Governor-General of Bengal.
  • It provided for the establishment of Supreme Court at Calcutta in 1774 comprising one Chief Justice & three other judges.
  • It prohibited the servants of the company from engaging in any private trade or accepting gifts or bribes from the natives.
  • The British Government strengthened its control over the company by requiring the reports related to revenue, civil & military affairs in India through Court of directors.

Pitt’s India Act 1784

  • This act was passed to rectify the defects of Regulating act of 1773.
  • It distinguished between the commercial & Political functions of the company.
  • It created a new body called Board of control to manage the political affairs in India.
  • Board of control was empowered to supervise & direct all operations including revenues of the British possessions in India.
  • From this act, the company’s territory in India were for the first time called the “ British possessions in India”.

Charter Act 1833

  • From this act the Governor General of Bengal was made the Governor General of India and vested in him all civil and military powers.
  • Lord William Bentick was the first Governor-General of India.
  • This act deprived the governor of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers. The governor general of India was given exclusive legislative powers for the entire British India.
  • The laws made under the previous act were called as regulations while laws made under this act were called as Acts.
  • It ended the activities of the East India company as a commercial body which became a purely administrative body.

Charter Act 1853

  • This was the last charter act passed by the British Parliament.
  • It separated the legislative and executive functions of the governor-general’s Council.
  • It established a separate Governor-General’s Legislative Council which came to be known as the Indian Legislative Council.
  • This legislative wing of the council functioned as a mini Parliament adopting the same procedures as the British Parliament.
  • It introduced an open competition system of selection and recruitment of Civil Servants. The covenanted civil service was thus open to Indians also. (At that time civil services of the company were classified into covenanted civil services means higher civil services and uncovenanted civil services i.e. lower civil services.)
  • It extended the company’s rule and allowed it to retain the possession of Indian territories on trust for the British Crowns. But it did not specify any particular period, Unlike the previous charters.
  • It introduced for the first time local representation in the Indian Legislative Council. Of the six new legislative members of the Governor-General’s council, four members were appointed by the local government of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and Agra.

THE CROWN RULE (1858-1947)

Government of India Act 1858

  • This Act was enacted in the wake of revolt of 1857(also known as the First war of Independence or Sepoy mutiny).
  • This act is also known as the act for the “Good government of India”.
  • It abolished the East India Company and transferred the powers of government, territories and revenues to the British crown.
  • It provided that India henceforth was to be governed by and in the name of, Her majesty.
  • It changed the designation of the Governor-General of India to that of Viceroy of India who was the direct representative of the British Crown in India.
  • Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India.
  • It ended the system of double government by abolishing the Board of control and Court of directors.
  • It created a new office, secretary of state for India, vested with complete authority and control over Indian administration.
  • The secretary of state was a member of the British cabinet and was a responsible ultimately to the British Parliament.
  • It also established a 15 member council of India to assist the secretary of state for India .

Indian councils Act 1861

  • After the great revolt of 1857, the British Government felt the necessity of seeking the cooperation of the Indians in the administration of their country. So they enacted Indian councils Acts.
  • From this act the beginning of representing Indians in the law making process begins.
  • It was provided that the Viceroy should nominate some Indians as non official members of his expanded council.
  • In 1862, the then Viceroy nominated three Indians to his legislative council. They were Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar rao.
  • It Initiated the process of decentralisation & restores the legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras presidencies.
  • It also provided for the establishment of new legislative councils for Bengal,North-western provinces and Punjab established in 1862, 1886, 1897 respectively.
  • It empowered the Viceroy to make rules & orders for the more convenient business in the council and viceroy can also issue ordinances without the concurrence of the legislative council during an emergency.

Indian council Act 1892

  • This act increased the number of non-official members in the central and provincial legislative councils but maintained the official majority in them.
  • It increased the functions of Legislative councils and give them the power of discussing the budget.
  • This act made a limited and indirect provision for the use of election in filling up some of the non official seats of Central and provincial legislative councils.

Indian councils Act 1909

  • It is also known as “Morley-Minto” reforms as Lord Morley was the then secretary of state for India and Lord Minto was the then Viceroy of India.
  • Here the number of members in central legislative council was raised from 16 to 60.
  • It expands the scope of deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels. For example members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, move resolutions on the budget and so on.
  • It provided for the first time for the association of Indians with the executive Council of the viceroy and governor.
  • Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s executive Council. He was appointed as the law member in the Council.
  • It also introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of separate electorate. Under this Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Thus the act legalised communalism and Lord Minto came to be known as the “father of communal electorate”.

Government of India Act 1919

  • On August 20, 1917 the British government declared for the first time that its objective is the gradual introduction of responsible government in India.
  • This act is also known as Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. Montagu was the secretary of state for India and Lord Chelmsford was the viceroy of India.
  • It separate the central and provincial subjects. The central and provincial legislatures were authorised to make laws on their respective list of subjects.
  • It adopt dyarchy system in which the provincial subjects were divided into two parts – transferred and reserved.
  • The transferred subjects were to be administered by the Governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative council.
  • The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor and his executive Council without being responsible to the Legislative Council.
  • It introduced for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Thus the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper house and a lower house. The majority of members of both the houses were now chosen by direct election.
  • It required that the three out of six members of the Viceroy’s executive Council were to be Indian.
  • It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians & Europeans.
  • It Created a new office for the High commissioner for India in London and transferred to him some of the functions hitherto performed by the Secretary of State for India.
  • It provided for the establishment of a Public Service Commission. Hence a Central Public Service Commission was setup in 1926 for recruiting Civil Servants.
  • It separated for the first time, provincial budgets from the central budget and authorized provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.
  • It granted franchise to limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education.


  • In November 1927 itself, the British Government announced the appointment of a Seven member statutory commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon to report on the condition of India under its new constitution.
  • All the members of the commission were British and hence all the parties boycotted this commission.
  • This commission submitted its report in 1930 and recommended the abolition of dyarchy, extention of responsible government in the provinces, establishment of a federation of British India & princely states, continuation of communal electorate and so on.
  • The recommendations of this committee were incorporated with certain changes in the next Government of India Act of 1935.

Government of India Act 1935

  • It was a detailed document having 321 sections and 10 schedules.
  • It provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units.
  • This act divided the powers between the centre and units in terms of three lists –
    • Federal list for Centre with 59 items
    • Provincial list for provinces with 54 items and
    • Concurrent list for both with 36 items.
    • The Residuary powers were given to the Viceroy.
  • It abolished dyarchy system in the provinces and introduced provincial autonomy in its place.
  • It introduced bicameralism in six provinces. They were legislatures of Bengal, Bombay, madras, Bihar, Assam and the United Provinces.
  • It further extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for depressed classes like Schedule castes, women and labourers.
  • It abolished the council of India, established by the Government of India Act 1858.
  • It extended franchise. By this About 10% of the total population got the voting right.
  •  Reserve Bank of India was established to control the currency and credit of the country.
  • It Introduced not only a Federal Public Service Commission but also a Provincial Public Service Commission and a Joint Public Service Commission for two or more provinces.
  • It also provided for the establishment of a Federal court which was setup in 1937.

Indian Independence Act 1947

  • On February 20, 1947, the British prime minister Clement Atlee declared that the British rule in India would end by June 30, 1948 after which the power would be transferred to responsible Indian hands. This announcement was followed by the agitation by the Muslim League demanding partition of the country.
  • On June 3, 1947, the British Government made it clear that any constitution framed by the constituent assembly of India cannot apply to those parts of the country which were unwilling to accept it.
  • On the same day, Lord Mountbatten, the viceroy of India put forth the partition plan, known as Mountbatten plan. This plan was accepted by the congress & the muslim League.
  • Immediate effect was given to the plan by enacting the Indian Independence Act 1947.
  • This act ended the British rule in India and declared India as an independent and sovereign state from August 15th, 1947.
  • It provided for the partition of India & creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with right to secede from the British Commonwealth.
  • It abolished the office of Viceroy and provided for each Dominion, a Governor General who was appointed by the British king on the advice of the dominion cabinet.
  • It empowered the constituent Assemblies to legislate for their respective territories till the new constitution were drafted & enforced.
  • It also granted the freedom to the Indian Princely States either to join the Dominion of India or Dominion of Pakistan or to remain Independent.
  • This act provided for the governance of each of the dominions and the provinces by the Government of India Act 1935 till they framed new constitutions.
  • It also discontinued the appointment to civil services and reservation of posts by the secretary of state for India.
  • At the midnight of 14-15 August, 1947, the British rule came to an end and power was transferred to the Two New Independent Dominions of India & Pakistan.
  • Lord Mountbatten became the first Governor-General of the new Dominion of India. He swore in Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime minister of Independent India.
  • The constituent assembly of India formed in 1946 became the Parliament of the Indian Dominion.
  • By this, India as a Separate Country came into Existence .

Also Read:

Introduction to IPC

Culpable Homicide & Murder

Theft & Extortion

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