Main Provisions of Indian Council Act 1861

The main provisions of Indian Council Act, 1861 were as under –

1. Changes made in Central Executive

The Act empowered to include an additional member to executive council of the Viceroy. He was to be a gentleman of the legal profession, a jurist rather than a typical lawyer. In this way the Council of the Governor-General was enlarged by adding one more ordinary member who was to be a law expert or jurist. The Act provided that of the five ordinary members at least three belonged to Civil Services and the fourth member be a jurist besides the Commander-in-Chief to be an extra-ordinary member of the Council.

2. To Enlarge the powers of Governor-General

The Governor-General was empowered to delegate special business to individual member of the executive council. He was authorized to nominate a President who was to preside over the meetings of the executive council in his absence. He was empowered to frame rules and regulations for the conduct of business of executive council. The Governor-General had the power to overrule the majority in the Council in matters of safely, tranquillity and interests of British possessions in India. The Governor-General-in-Council could authorise the Governor-General alone to exercise all or any of its powers except those of making laws and regulations.

3. To make Central Legislature Competent to Legislate

The Act of 1861 enlarged the Council of Viceroy for purposes of making law and regulations by the addition of not less than six or more than 12 additional members provided that not more than 1/2 of the persons so nominated shall be non-official members. Nominated members were to hold office for two years. The Act provided that the function of the Legislative Council was strictly limited to legislation and the Act expressly forbade the transaction of any other business.

Although the legislative powers were widened it was subject to certain restrictions. Firstly for introducing any bill with respect to public debt, public revenue, Military discipline and Indian States. The previous sanction of the Governor-General was necessary. Secondly, no law could be passed which violated the authority of Home Government or was inconsistent with any Act of Parliament. The approval of Governor-General was necessary for every enactment, and any such Act would be disallowed by Her Majesty, acting through the Secretary of State.

The legislative power of the Governor-General-in-Council was declared to extend to the making of laws and regulations for repealing, amending any laws or regulations for the time being in force in India. The Act of 1861 empowered the governor-General to issue ordinances on his own authority in cases of emergency. He was also empowered to promulgate ordinances for peace and good government of territories in India. The ordinances were valid for 6 months only and could be disallowed by the crown even before the expiry of the period of six months.

4. To make Provincial Legislature Competent to Legislate

The Provincial Governments of Bombay and Madras were restored the powers of making and amending laws and were given the power of nominating the Advocate-General and not less than 8 additional members of the Executive Council for legislation for a term of two years. The previous sanction of the Governor-General was necessary for the laws enacted by the local Legislature. The law could finally be disallowed by Her Majesty through the Secretary of State. But the Provincial legislatures were not empowered to frame laws relating to army, foreign and political affairs, customs, coinage and currency, patents, copyrights, Penal Code, religion or Post and Telegraphs etc. without the prior sanction of the Governor-General.

5. Administrative Powers of the Governor-General

The Governor-General was “empowered to create new Provinces for legislative purposes and to appoint Lieutenant Governors for them. Under this provision a legislature for Bengal was established in January, 1862; for the N. W. F. P. and Oudh in 1886, and for Punjab in 1897. Governor-General was authorized to divide or alter the limits of any Presidency, province or territory.

The local legislatures has no power to control or effect by their Acts, the jurisdiction or procedure of the High Courts. This power was exclusively vested in the Parliament and the legislative Council of the Governor-General.

Merits of Indian Council Act, 1861

Mr. Alen Gladhill Observes in his Republic of India, “The Indian, Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the membership of Central Legislature, restricted the activities of legislative Councils to legislation only, restored legislative powers to the Legislatures in the Presidency and enabled the establishment of provincial Legislatures. It empowered the Governor-General to legislate by ordinance instead of Executive Council dealing with every item of business within its competence, responsibility to all, but the more important points on specific subjects were delegated to the individual members of Executive Council. This was a first step towards Cabinet Government.”

The Act of 1861 took away from the Governor-General the powers of making rules and regulations for non-regulation provinces by executive orders. The non-regulation areas were inhabited by the backward people to which it was thought improper to apply, administrative and judicial regulations of Lord Cornwallis. They came directly under the control of the Governor-General-in-Council.

However, the Act of 1870 restored him to make rules and regulations for non-regulation areas also.

Thus, the merits of Indian Council Act, 1861 lies in the fact that it made central Executive more powerful, it provided to seek co-operation of Indians in law making and provided for the decentralisation of powers as the Act conferred law-making powers on the Provincial Governments also.

Demerits of Indian Council Act, 1861

The main defects of the Act were

1. The Indian Council Act, 1861 established a powerful centre and weak provinces. Although the Act authorised the provincial Govt. to legislate yet in practice so many restrictions were imposed so that it was not possible in practice to make any law by them.

2. This Act failed to establish a responsible Government because the Governor-General was not responsible to the council for his acts.


The Act of 1861 gave the framework to the Government of India which it had retained till now, and all subsequent changes had been made within that framework. It ushered in one of the great developments that distinguish subsequent reforms of administration in the country, viz., admission of Indians into the higher counsels of the Government.


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