Indian Council Act 1861: Features, Provisions, Importance of Portfolio System

By K Balaji|Updated : January 20th, 2023

Indian Council Act 1861 was the act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which changed India's executive council to a cabinet. This cabinet ran on the portfolio system. Lord Canning, the Viceroy of India, first introduced the concept of a portfolio system in India. Through the Indian Council Act 1861, a fifth member was added for the executive functions of the council for home, law, military, revenue, and finance. Later in the year 1874, a sixth member was added for public works.

Indian Council Act 1861 UPSC is covered in both the History and Polity syllabus. It laid down the composition of the council for the Governor General for legislative and executive purposes. For reading about this important topic from UPSC Prelims and Mains perspectives, Indian Council Act 1861 notes are available in the PDF form below.

Table of Content

Provisions of Indian Council Act 1861

The Indian Council Act 1861 was introduced by the British Parliament to meet the necessity of cooperation from the Indian people in the country's administration. With the advent of this act, the powers of government were restored, and the portfolio of the Council of Viceroy was incorporated.

Indian Council Act 1861 PDF

  • The concept of decentralization of powers was introduced in the Indian Council Act of 1861.
  • This act was enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which transformed India's Executive Council into a cabinet that runs on the portfolio system.
  • The cabinet consisted of six ordinary members who took charge of different separate departments like home revenue, law, finance, and public works in the Calcutta government.
  • Under the charter act of 1833, the legislative powers were taken back by the British Parliament. With the advent of the Indian Council Act 1861, all the powers were restored. Hence, this act is an essential landmark for the constitutional reputation of India.
  • The act allowed Indians to participate in the law-making process. Regarding this provision, the Viceroy nominated Sir Dinkar Rao Maharaj of Banaras and Patiala.
  • Under the Indian Council Act of 1861, the Viceroy was provided with the power to issue ordinances during an emergency without asking for the concordance of the Legislative Council.
  • The life of these ordinances was decided to be 6 months.

History of Portfolio System

The revolt of 1857 shook the British Empire. It forced them to seek a corporation with Indians in the administration. After exercising complete control of the territory of India, the British Parliament decided to overhaul the administrative and legislative structures. Hence, 3 acts were passed: 1861, 1892, and 1909. The Indian Council act 1861, by which the Portfolio system was introduced, is a very important benchmark in the constitution and history of India.

Features of Indian Council Act 1861

Go through the features of the Indian Council Act 1861 for a better understanding.

  • The Indian Council Act of 1861 was significant. It created a representative institution by involving Indians in the legislative process.
  • Lord Canning nominated some Indians as non-official members as a part of his expanded Council. Later on, he recommended three Indians to Legislative Council: the Raja of Banaras, Patiala, and Sir Dinkar Rao.
  • The act of 1861 initiated the process of decentralization of powers to the Bombay and Madras presidencies.
  • It also had provisions for establishing a new legislative council in Bengal, the North-Western Provinces, and Punjab in 1862, 1886, and 1897, respectively.
  • The Viceroy was empowered to make the rules and orders for the convenient business transactions of the Council.
  • Lord Canning introduced a portfolio system in the government where members of the Council were made in charge of one or more departments of the government. The Viceroy was authorized to issue any order on behalf of the Council and the departments.

Need for the Indian Council Act 1861

After the war of independence in 1857, the British officials in Parliament realized the difficulty of establishing a government in India without their participation. The act of 1833 centralized the legislation; it had only one representative in each of the four provinces. The charter act of 1833 centralized the legislation. The central government back then had the power to legislate for the entire country.

This work of the legislative council, established by the charter act of 1853, left much to be desired. The company claimed all the functions and privileges for itself. Also, the company often tried to act as if it had complete autonomy and an independent legislature. With this mindset, they often break off the supply chain of goods to England.

To stop this unbridled dictatorship of the company in India, the British parliament called for a meeting of the authorities in England. After a comprehensive discussion with the governments of India and Britain, the Indian Council Act 1861 was passed, and the company was called off.

Importance of Indian Council Act 1861

Some of the merits of the Indian Council Act 1861 are as follows:

  • This act was a drastic change in the history of the Indian Constitution.
  • The Indian Council Act 1861 changed the structure of the Governor General's Council for executive and legislative purposes.
  • Indians were allowed to present their viewpoint and participate actively in the administrative processes.

Indian Council Act 1861 UPSC

The Indian Council Act 1861 is an important event in the UPSC Syllabus of Indian Polity. You can read more about this act in the UPSC Books available on our website. Through the Portfolio System, the powers of the company were snatched, and a full-fledged government was re-established.

Aspirants preparing to appear for the UPSC Exam this year can get complete information on Indian Council Act 1861 by reading this article till the end. The following questions are taken from the previous year's papers as a reference:

Q.1 Which one of the following acts of British India strengthened the Viceroy's authority over his executive Council by substituting the portfolio or department system for corporate functioning? [UPSC Prelims 2002]

  1. India Council Act 1861
  2. Government of India Act 1858
  3. Indian Council Act 1892
  4. Indian Council Act 1909

Correct Answer:- Option A

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FAQs on Indian Council Act 1861

  • The Indian Council Act 1861 was an act introduced by the British Parliament to make crucial changes in the council of the Governor-General. It transformed the executive council to run as a cabinet with five members to handle operations of military, law, finance, home, and revenue.

  • The main objective of making the Indian Council Act 1861 was to include Indians in the country’s administration and establish a proper system in the country with legislation. It restructured the executive council of the British Governor General.

  • The portfolio system was introduced by Lord Canning, the first viceroy of India, after the enactment of the Indian Council Act 1861. Under this, members of the council were given specific departments such as finance, military, revenue, etc.

  • The meaning of the Portfolio system in the Indian Council Act 1861 is that the members of the executive councils of a specific department are given special status or titles, particularly in revenue, religion, foreign affairs, military, and finance. The portfolios are extremely similar to the present-day portfolios in the cabinets.

  • Some salient features of the Indian Council Act 1861 include the decentralisation of powers, empowering Indian rulers by giving them a role in the British administration, provisions for establishing new legislative councils in some states, introducing a portfolio system in the functioning of the government, etc.

  • The British Parliament passed the 1861 Indian Council Act to make changes in the executive council of the Governor General. It was introduced by Lord Canning, who was the then-Governor General of India.

  • Some of the provisions of the Government of India Act 1861 are as follows:

    • A fifth member was proposed to be added to the council, and the five departments were law, finance, revenue, military, and home.
    • Each member was allotted a particular department, which came to be known as the Portfolio System.
    • Three Indian members were added to the council by Lord Canning - Maharaja of Patiala, Raja of Banaras, and Sir Dinkar Rao.
  • Ordinances were a type of law that was made by the viceroy in any emergency situation. As per the 1861 act, the viceroy was not bound to ask for the prior approval of the executive councils or the legislative councils. These ordinances were valid for up to 6 months of enactment.

  • Some of the merits of the Indian Council Act 1861 include restoring the legislative powers of Bombay and Madras Presidencies, giving authority to the Presidency of Calcutta to make laws for the entire country, etc. On the other hand, the demerits of the Portfolio system include limited discussions on matters such as revenue, finance, etc., the functions of the legislative council are limited, etc.

  • The Indian Council Act 1861 provided the portfolio system in the government in which five members were allocated to different departments, while through the Indian Council Act 1892, members were given the right to ask questions related to finance and budget.

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