Indian Councils Act

Indian Councils Act, 1861

This article is written by Ranveer Raj, a student of B.A. LLB (2nd year) in Lovely Professional University, Phagwara (Punjab). This article deals with the Indian council act 1861. It also deals with The Drawbacks of The Indian Councils Act (1861).

Indian Councils Act, 1861 – Salient Features

The Indian Council Act of 1861 was enacted to transform the Indian Executive Council into a cabinet based on the portfolio system. Each of the Cabinet’s five Ordinary members was assigned a specific responsibility, such as Home, Revenue, Military, Law, Finance, and Public Works (1874). Lord Canning, Viceroy and Governor-General of India, established the Portfolio System in 1864. All of this was overseen by the British Government, which had its headquarters in Calcutta. The Commander in Chief attended the Council meeting as an extra member.

If he thought it was necessary, the Viceroy had the power and authority to overthrow The Council. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 reinstated the legislative powers of the Bombay and Madras Presidency that had lapsed following the passage of the Charter Act of 1833. The Calcutta Presidency was given the authority to make laws for the entire British India under this Act. The Bombay and Madras Presidency’s legislative powers were limited to their respective territories. The Governor-General could create new provinces for legislative purposes and appoint Lieutenant Governors.

The need for introducing The Indian Councils Act (1861)

  • There were numerous disagreements between the Madras Government and the Supreme Court regarding the Jurisdiction
  • Presidencies were dissatisfied with their legal authority, and they demanded more participation from presidencies.
  • The Indian public’s desire for significant changes in India’s government in terms of representation, powers, and so on.

Provisions of the Indian Councils Act 1861

  • The portfolio assignment government system was instituted by Lord Canning, Viceroy and Governor-General.
  • A fifth member was introduced to take over the Council’s Executive Home, and Military, Law, Revenue, and Finance portfolios were created.
  • With the addition of a sixth member in 1874, the Public Works portfolio was
  • The Governor-Council General was expanded for legislative purposes, with six to twelve new members appointed by The Governor-General.
  • The Council’s Act (1861) restored the Legislative powers of the Governor-in-Councils of the Presidency of Madras and Bombay, which had been revoked by The Charter Act (1833).
  • Calcutta’s legislative council had the authority to make laws for entire British India.
  • A provision was also made for the establishment of legislative councils in other provinces. New provinces could be formed for legislative purposes, with Lieutenant Governors
  • Non-official members of the Executive Council were not eager to attend Council meetings and were not required to do so under the Act.
  • Bengal’s Legislative Councils were established in 1862. In the North-West Frontier Province, Legislative Councils were established in

Drawbacks: Following are The Drawbacks of The Indian Councils Act (1861)

  • Because its primary function was advisory, the legislative council’s role was
  • It was forbidden to discuss revenue and financial
  • When legislative powers were granted to Bombay and Madras, power was decentralised.
  • The power of the Governor-ordinance General gave him absolute and, in some ways, unlimited powers, allowing him to be an arbitrary
  • The Indian members were unable to oppose any bill, and the majority of legislation was passed without debate.
  • Non-official members appointed by the government were typically people with significant power and influence, rather than people who could explain to the government the problems faced by the common man and what they desired from the government, such as Kings, Retired Company Officials, and so

The Indian Councils Act (1861) was followed by The Indian Councils Act (1892) which had several features such as:

By virtue of the Indian Councils Act, there are now a maximum of 10 to sixteen non-officially elected members, up from six to twelve previously (1861).

The Governor-General was given the right and authority to issue invitations to various Indian organisations so they might nominate, elect, choose, or delegate their representatives, as well as to establish norms and guidelines for their nomination.

This law was passed to curb the nationalist movements that were becoming more prevalent throughout British India.

In short, the direct representation/indirect election paradigm was put into practise even though there were no direct elections.

Council members now have the power to vote on yearly financial statements according to the Act.

A time limit and a six-month notice were required before they may ask inquiries about matters of public interest.


A major turning point in India’s political and constitutional history is the Indian Councils Act of 1861. For executive and legislative reasons, it changed the makeup of the Governor General’s Council. The most remarkable aspect of this Act was the participation of Indians in the legislative process. Representative institutions saw a new beginning when Indians were included in the legislative process. It allowed for the creation of legislative councils in Bengal, Punjab, and the North Western Frontier Province. Thus, we can state that even though The Indian Council Act (1861) had many drawbacks, it nevertheless paved the way for the introduction of the portfolio system, the power of ordinance, and the presence of non-official members in legislative Councils, some features of which are still present in our administration today. In a sense, The Indian Council Act can be said to be the foundation of our current administrative structure (1861).

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