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

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Indian Councils Act 1861 was an 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 from 1858 to 1862, first introduced the concept of a portfolio system in India. Through the Indian Councils Act of 1861, a fifth member was added to the council for the executive functions of 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.

Provisions of the Indian Councils Act 1861

The Indian Councils 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 Councils 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 passing of the Indian Councils Act 1861, all the powers were restored.
  • The act allowed Indians to participate in the law-making process to an extent. Following this provision, the Viceroy nominated Sir Dinkar Rao Maharaj of Banaras and the ruler of Patiala to the council.
  • Under the Indian Councils 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 the cooperation of 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 councils acts were passed: 1861, 1892, and 1909. The Indian Councils Act 1861, by which the Portfolio System was introduced, is a very important benchmark in the constitutional history of India.

Features of Indian Councils Act 1861

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

  • The Indian Councils 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 the Legislative Council: the Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of 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 Councils Act 1861

After the War of Independence in 1857, the British officials in Parliament realized the difficulty of establishing a government in India without the participation of the Indian people. The Charter Act of 1833 centralized the legislation; it had only one representative in each of the four provinces. 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 broke 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 Councils Act 1861 was passed.

Importance of Indian Councils Act 1861

Some of the merits of the Indian Councils Act, 1861 are as follows:

  • This act brought about a change in the way in which the country was administered.
  • The Indian Councils Act, 1861 changed the structure of the Governor General’s Council for executive and legislative purposes.
  • Indians were allowed to present their viewpoints and participate actively in the administrative processes.

Indian Councils Act 1861 UPSC

The Indian Councils 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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