The East India Company selected Surat as a suitable place for the purpose of its trading centre as it was an important commercial centre and enjoyed the status of an international port under the reign of Moghul Emperor Jahangir. The English factories in various settlements were within the territorial jurisdiction of the Mohgul Emperor, therefore the permission of the latter was necessary for the English Company to carry on its trade and business. The King of England, James I, sent Sir Thomas Roe to India in 1615 to secure certain concessions from the Moghul Emperor. He reached Moghul Darbar at Agra in 1615 by issuing a firman, who allowed the English man to carry on their trade freely and establish a factory at Surat. The main concessions as grant were under –
1. The Englishmen were allowed to live in accordance with their own laws and religion without any local interference. They were allowed this privilege under the trealy settlement of 1618 with the Moghul Emperor.
2. The disputes amongst the Englishmen and the natives were to be settled by their own tribunals.
3. The disputes between the Englishmen and the natives were to be settled by the local native authorities.
4. All cases of complaints and controversies relating to Englishmen were to be looked into by the Kazi of the place who was to safeguard their interests and esnure justice for them. The Kazi was also directed to treat Englishmen with respect and courtesy.
Administrative set-up of Surat Factory
In pursuance of the privileges granted by Moghul Emperor the Company established a factory at Surat in 1618 with a ‘Governor’ or a ‘President’ as its head. It was a principal trading station of company having authority over other subordinate factories. In this factory, the Company had its warehouses, offices and residential quarters for its officers and servants. The affairs of the Company were regulated by majority vote in the Còuncil. The President had only right of one vote and he did not enjoy any veto power.
Law and Justice in Surat
1. English System of Administration of Justice-No regular courts or tribunals existed for deciding disputes arising between the Englishmen inter se. The President and Council of the factory was empowered by the British Crown to administer justice in criminal cases. Later, the Royal Grant of 1623 issued by James I authorised the Company to grant commission to any of its President and Council to try and punish the English subjects, their heir and successors who were under the employment of the Company. The President and Council could inflict death sentence only in case of the offence of mutiny or felony after seeking the verdict of a jury. They were also empowered to administer civil justice, but being non-legal persons, they decided cases according to their own notions of justice and fair-play though they were supposed to follow the English law.
2. Indian System of Administration of Justice – The English people were governed by a dual system of law namely;
(i) In their own matters by the laws of England;
(ii) In matter with Indians by the native laws of this country by the native courts. But the working of the native tribunals suffered from many serious defects. Bribery and corruption was rampant and the judicial officers were arbitrary in their decisions. Consequently, the Englishmen did not like to be tried by the native courts and exploited the situation to their advantage by taking law into their own hands.
During the course of time, Surat lost its importance as a trading centre and the Company considered Bombay more suitable for its trading activities. Therefore the headquarter of the President and Council, was shifted to Bombay in May 1687 and Surat lost its importance as a British trading centre once for all.