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Chapter: 8th Social Science : History : Chapter 2 : From Trade to Territory

The British Administrative Organisation in India

The British Indian administration was run by four principal institutions - Civil Services, Army, Police and Judiciary.

The British Administrative Organisation in India

The British Indian administration was run by four principal institutions - Civil Services, Army, Police and Judiciary.


Civil Services

The term ‘civil service’ was used for the first time by the East India Company to distinguish its civilian employees from their military counterparts. Translating law into action and collecting revenue were the main jobs of the civil service. The civil service was initially commercial in nature but later it was transformed into a public service. In the beginning, the appointment to these services was the sole prerogative of the Court of Directors of the Company. But the nominated civil servants indulged in corruption, bribery and illegal private trade. So, Cornwallis who came to India as Governor-General in 1786, enforced the rules against private trade. He also raised the salary of the Company’s servants who became the highest paid civil servants in the world.

Lord Wellesley, who came to India as Governor-General in 1798, introduced the idea of suitable training for the civil servants in India. In 1800, he established the College in Fort William at Calcutta to provide training in literature, science and languages. However, the directors of the Company disapproved of his action and replaced it by their own East India College, established at Haileybury in England in 1806.

The idea of competition for recruitment was introduced first by the Charter Act, 1833. But the system of competition was these not nominated by the Court of Directors were not eligible to write the competitive examination. Hence, the system was called as nomination-cum-competition system. The system of recruitment on the basis of open competitive examination was introduced in 1853. This system was confirmed by the Government of India Act of 1858. The maximum age for competitors was fixed at 23. Subsequently, East India College at Haileybury was abolished in 1858, and recruitment to civil services became the responsibility of the civil service commission. By the Regulation of 1860 the maximum age was lowered to 22, in 1866 to 21 and in 1876 to 19.

The Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 passed by the British Parliament exclusively reserved certain categories of high executive and judicial posts for the covenanted civil service which was later designated as the Indian Civil Service. Due to the lowering of age limit and holding of examination in London it could be possible only for a very few wealthy Indians to appear at the I.C.S. examination. In 1869, three Indians - Surendra Nath Banerje, Ramesh Chandra Dutt and Bihari Lal Gupta became successful in the I.C.S. examination.

Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of poet Rabindranath Tagore, was the first Indian to pass the I.C.S. Examination in 1863.

Later on, the Indians demanded to increase the age limit and to establish centre for examination in India instead of England.

In 1892, the minimum age limit for appearing for the Civil Service Examination was raised to 21 and the maximum to 23. In 1912, a Royal Commission on Public Service was appointed. Chaired by Lord Islington, this commission had two Indian members - G.K. Gokhale and Sir Abdur Rahim - besides four Englishmen. The Commission published its report in 1917. Islington commission’s recommendations partly fulfilled the demand for the Indianisation of Civil Service.

In 1918, Montague and Lord Chelmsford recommended that 33% Indian should be recruited in Indian Civil Services and gradually the number should be increased. In 1923, a Royal Commission on Public Services was appointed with Lord Lee of Fareham as chairman. This commission recommended that recruitment to all-Indian services like the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service should be made and controlled by the Secretary of State for India. The Lee Commission recommended the immediate establishment of a Public Service Commission.

The Act of 1935 also made provisions for the establishment of a Federal Public Service Commission at the Centre and the Provincial Public Service Commissions in the various provinces. Provision was also made for a Joint Public Service Commission in two or more Provinces. Although, the main aim of this measure was to serve the British interests, it became the base of the civil service system in independent India.



The army was the second important pillar of the British administration in India. The East India Company started recruiting its own army, which came to be known as the sepoy (from sipahi or soldier) army. That sepoy army was trained and disciplined according to European military standards and was commanded by European officers in the battlefield. During the early stage of British rule, three separate armies had been organised in three Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. Army had a great contribution in the establishment and expansion of British rule in India. Indian soldiers were given less salaries and allowances than English soldiers. In 1857, the Indians constituted about 86 percent of the total strength of the Company’s army. However, the officers of the army were exclusively British. For example, in 1856, only three Indians in the army received a salary of 300 rupees per month. The highest rank an Indian could ever reach was that of a subedar.

Strength of British Army

Plassey war (1757): 1950 European infantry, 100 European artillery, 50 English sailors, and 2,100 Indian sepoys, an English army of 6000 troops was maintained in Bengal.

In 1857, the strength of the army in India was 3,11,400 of whom 2,65,900 were Indians. Its officers were British.

After the revolt of 1857, the important changes were made in the Indian army services in 1858. They increased British troops and reduced Indian troops. Also, only English were appointed in artillery.



When the East India Company took over the diwani in 1765, the Mughal police system was under the control of faujdars, who were in charge of their ‘sarkars’ or rural districts. The kotwals were in charge of towns, while the village watchmen were paid and controlled by the Zamindars.

The police system was created by Lord Cornwallis. He relieved the Zamindars from police functions and established a regular police force in 1791. Cornwallis established a system of circles or ‘thanas’ each headed by a ‘daroga’. The authority of the daroga extended to village watchmen who performed the police duties in the villages. The hereditary village police became ‘chowkidars’. In the big cities, the old office of kotwal was, however, continued, and a daroga was appointed to each of the wards of a city. The daroga system was extended to Madras in 1802.

Before the post of district superintendent of police was created, all the thanas were under the general supervision of the district judge. In 1808, a Superintendent of Police was appointed for each division. Later, the district collector was entrusted with the task of controlling the police force in the districts. The main task of the police was to handle crime and to prevent conspiracy against the British rule.


Judicial system

In 1772, the Dual Government was abolished and the Company took over the direct responsibility for the collection of revenue as well as the administration of justice. Consequently a Diwani Adalat and Faujdari Adalat were established. By the Regulating Act of 1773, a Supreme Court was set up in Calcutta. This court consisted of a chief justice and three puisne judges who were appointed by the Crown. This court decided civil, criminal, ecclesiastical and admiralty cases. On the model of the Supreme Court of Calcutta, a Supreme Court was established in Madras in 1801 and in Bombay in 1823. In 1832, William Bentinck started jury system in Bengal. A Indian Law Commission was established to compile the laws. A rule of law was established for the whole empire. According to the Indian High Courts Act, 1861, three High Courts were set up in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in place of the old Supreme Courts.

Sir Elijah Impey was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Fort William in Bengal.

Sir Thiruvarur Muthusamy was the first Indian Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.


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