Charter Act of 1833

IAS Prelims 2023

The Saint Helena Act 1833 or Government of India Act 1833 or Charter Act of 1833 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and it gave another lease of life to the Company for next 20 years.

The 20 years renewal of the charter in 1813 ran out in 1833. This was the time for the government to do a careful assessment of the functioning of the company in India. The charter was renewed for another 20 years, but the company was asked to close its commercial business.

Thus, this time the charter was renewed on the condition that Company should abandon its trade entirely, alike with India and China, and permit Europeans to settle freely in India.


Charter Act of 1833 ended the activities of the British East India Company as a commercial body and became a purely administrative body. In particular, the company lost its monopoly in China and also the trade of tea which it enjoyed with Charter act of 1813.

It redesignated the Governor-General of Bengal as the Governor-General of India. Thus with Charter Act of 1833, Lord William Bentinck became the “First Governor General of British India”.

The Governor-General in council was given the power to control, superintend and direct the civil and military affairs of the Company. Central government was to have complete control over raising of revenues and expenditure. i.e. All financial and administrative powers were centralized in the hands of Governor General-in-Council.

The number of the members of the Governor General’s council was again fixed to 4, which had been reduced by the Pitt’s India act to 3. However, certain limits were imposed on the functioning of the 4th member.

The 4th member was NOT entitled to act as a member of the council except for legislative purposes.

First fourth person to be appointed as the member of the Council was Lord Macaulay.
The Charter Act of 1833 provided for splitting the Presidency of Bengal, into two presidencies which were to be known as, Presidency of Fort William and Presidency of Agra. But this provision never came into effect, and was suspended later.

It deprived the Governors of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers. The Governor-General was given exclusive legislative powers for the whole of British India.

Governor-General-in-Council could repeal, amend or alter any laws or regulations including all persons (whether British or native or foreigners), all places and things in every part of British territory in India, for all servants of the company, and articles of war.

However, the Court of Directors acting under the Board of control could veto any laws made by the Governor-General-in-Council.

The Charter Act of 1833 is considered to be an attempt to codify all the Indian Laws. The British parliament as a supreme body retained the right to legislate for the British territories in India and repeal the acts.

The Act of 1833 provided that all laws made in India were to be laid before the British Parliament and were to be known as Acts.

In a step towards codifying the laws, the Governor-General-in-Council was directed under the Charter act of 1833, to set up an Indian law Commission.

First Indian Law Commission: The first law commission was set up by the Charter act of 1833 and Lord Macaulay was its most important member and Chairman. The objectives of the law commission was to inquire into the Jurisdiction, powers and rules of the courts of justice police establishments, existing forms of judicial procedure, nature and operation of all kinds of laws. It was directed that the law Commission shall submit its report to the Governor General-in-council and this report was to be placed in the British parliament.

The Section 87 of the Charter Act of 1833, declared that merit was to be the basis for employment in Government Services and the religion, birth place, and race of the candidates were not to be considered in employment.

This policy was not seen in any other previous acts. So the Charter act of 1833 was the first act which provisioned to freely admit the natives of India to share an administration in the country.

It attempted to introduce a system of open competitions for the selection of civil servants. However this provision was negated after opposition from the Court of Directors who continued to hold the privilege of appointing Company officials.

This act also directed the Governor General-in-Council to adopt measures to mitigate the state of slavery, persisting in India.

The Governor General-in-Council was also directed to pay attention to laws of marriage, rights and authorities of the heads of the families, while drafting any laws.

The number of British residents was increasing in India.

The charter act of 1833 laid down regulation of establishment of Christian establishments in India and the number of Bishops was made 3.

The debts of the Company were taken over by the Indian government which agreed to pay its shareholders a 10.5% dividend on their capital out of the Indian revenues for the next 40 years. This added to the burden of India and proved to be an important component of drain of wealth.