The internal reforms of Cornwallis can be studied under three main heads.
1. Administrative reforms
2. Revenue reforms or Permanent Settlement
3. Judicial and other reforms
The greatest work of Cornwallis was the purification of the civil service by the employment of capable and honest public servants. He aimed at economy, simplification and purity. He found that the servants of the Company were underpaid. But they received very high commissions on revenues. In addition to that they conducted forbidden and profitable private trade in the names of relatives and friends. Cornwallis, who aimed at cleansing the administration, abolished the vicious system of paying small salaries and allowing enormous perquisites. He persuaded the Directors of the Company to pay handsome salaries to the Company servants in order that they might free themselves from commercial and corrupting activities.
Further, Cornwallis inaugurated the policy of making appointments mainly on the basis of merit thereby laying the foundation of the Indian Civil Service. To cut down on extravagances, he abolished a number of surplus posts. Another major reform that Cornwallis introduced was the separation of the three branches of service, namely commercial, judicial and revenue. The collectors, the king-pins of the administrative system were deprived of their judicial powers and their work became merely the collection of revenue.
In the work of judicial reorganization, Cornwallis secured the services of Sir William Jones, who was a judge and a great scholar. Civil and criminal courts were completely reorganized.
At the top of the judicial system, the highest civil and criminal courts of appeal, namely Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were functioning at Calcutta. Both of them were presided over by the Governor-General and his Council.
There were four provincial courts of appeal at Calcutta, Dacca, Murshidabad and Patna, each under three European judges assisted by Indian advisers.
District and City courts functioned each under a European judge. Every district was provided with a court. As already stated, Cornwallis had taken away from the collectors of their judicial powers and made them solely responsible for the collection of revenue. As a result, District Judges were appointed.
Indian judges or Munsiffs were appointed to all the courts at the bottom of the judicial system.
In criminal cases, Muslim law was improved and followed. In civil cases, Hindu and Muslim laws were followed according to the religion of the litigants. In suits between Hindus and Muslims, the judge was the deciding authority. Cornwallis was merciful by temperament. He hated barbarous punishments and abolished those like mutilation and trial by ordeal.
Cornwallis was better known as a law giver than as an administrator. With the help of his colleague, George Barlow, Cornwallis prepared a comprehensive code, covering the whole field of administration', judicial, police, commercial and fiscal. This Code was based upon the principle of Montesquieu, 'the Separation of Powers', which was popular in the West in 18th century. In order to curb undue exercise of authority Cornwallis made all officials answerable to the courts.
The effective implementation of judicial reforms required the reorganisation of police administration. The District Judge controlled the police. Each district was divided into thanas or police circles each of which was about 20 square miles. It was placed under an Indian officer called the daroga who was ably assisted by many constables. However, the police organization was not effective. In the words of Marshman, 'the daroga enjoyed almost unlimited power of extortion and became the scourge of the country'.
Cornwallis reformed the Board of Trade which managed the commercial investments of the Company. With the aid of Charles Grant, he eradicated numerous abuses and corrupt practices. Fair treatment was given to weavers and Indian workers. He increased the remuneration for honest service.
Cornwallis, a blue-blooded aristocrat, was an ardent patriot. He discharged his duties fearlessly, and his life was an embodiment of 'duty and sacrifice'. He perceived the danger of Tipu's growing power and curtailed it by boldly discarding the policy of nonintervention. As an administrator, he consolidated the Company's position in India and started the tradition of efficient and pure administration. Although there were defects in his Permanent Settlement of Land Revenue, his administrative and judicial reforms were solid achievements. He may be regarded the parent of the Indian Administrative Service and founder of an efficient and clean system of administration.
Sir John Shore (1793-98) succeeded Cornwallis as Governor General and his administration was uneventful.