After the great revolt of 1857, the British Government felt the necessity of seeking the cooperation of the Indians in then administration of their country. In pursuance of this policy of association, three acts were enacted by the British Parliament in 1861, 1892 and 1909. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 is an important landmark in the constitutional and political history of India.
The features of Indian Councils Act of 1861 were as follows:
- It made a beginning of the representative institutions by associating Indians with the law-making process. It, thus, provided that the Viceroy should nominate some Indians as non-official members of his expanded council. In 1862, Lord Canning, the then Viceroy, nominated three Indians to his legislative council–the Raja of Benaras, the Maharaja of Patiala and Sir Dinkar Rao.
- It initiated the process of decentralisation by restoring the legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras Presidencies. It, thus, reversed the centralising tendency that started from the Regulating Act of 1773 and reached its climax under the Charter Act of 1833. This policy of legislative devolution resulted in the grant of almost complete internal autonomy to the provinces in 1937.
- It also provided for the establishment of new legislative councils for Bengal, North-Western Provinces and Punjab, which were established in 1862, 1886 and 1897, respectively.
- It empowered the Viceroy to make rules and orders for the more convenient transaction of business in the council. It also gave a recognition to the ‘portfolio’ system, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859. Under this, a member of the Viceroy’s council was made in-charge of one or more departments of the Government and was authorised to issue final orders on behalf of the council on matters of his department(s).
- It empowered the Viceroy to issue ordinances, without the concurrence of the legislative council, during an emergency. The life of such an ordinance was six months.