The Indian Councils Act 1861 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
This act is known to have made notable changes in the composition of the Governor General’s council for executive & legislative Purposes.
The council of the Governor General of India performed dual functions of executive and legislature.
For executive functions the notable change was that Council of the Governor General was expanded and a fifth member of law (Five members: home, revenue, military, law, finance, and after 1874, 6th member of public work) was added.
With the Indian Councils Act for the first time Portfolio system started (Cabinet type). Each member of the Council of the Governor General was allocated portfolio of a particular department. Lord Canning was the First to start a Portfolio system.
For the purpose of Legislation, the Governor General’s Council was restructured and enlarged. Now the additional new NOT less than 6 and NOT more than 12 members were now to be nominated by the Governor General and they were to hold the office for two years. Out of these, not less than half were required to be Non-Official (English or Indian).
This was a beginning towards the establishment of legislative system by adding legislative non official members to the Council of the Governor General. However, the functions were limited to the legislation and it had not to do any other function except the consideration or enactment of legislative measures.
It was laid down that without the assent of the Governor General a bill relating to the public revenue or debt, religion, military, naval or foreign relations cannot be passed. However, any such act might be dissolved by the crown acting through the secretary of State of India.
The Viceroy was allowed, under the provisions of the Act, to overrule the council on affairs if he deemed it necessary – as was the case in 1879, during the tenure of Lord Lytton.
The Governments of Madras and Bombay were deprived of their power of legislation by Charter act of 1833. The Indian Councils Act 1861 restored the power of legislation to the governor-in-councils of Madras and Bombay in respective matters.
The legislative council at Calcutta was given extensive authority to pass laws for British India as a whole, while the legislative councils at Bombay and Madras were given the power to make laws for the “Peace and good Government” of their respective presidencies.
The act also laid down the provision for the formation of legislative councils in other provinces.
The Governor General was given the power to create new provinces for legislative purposes. He also could appoint Lt. Governors for the same.
Imperial legislative Council was merely an advisory body.
The Secretary of State for India at the time the Act was passed, Sir Charles Wood, believed that the Act was of immense importance: “the act is a great experiment. That everything is changing in India is obvious enough, and that the old autocratic government cannot stand unmodified is indisputable”.
However from India’s point of view the act did little to improve the influence of Indians in the legislative council. The role of council was limited to advice. No financial discussion could take place.