Why did British go in for administrative reforms in 19th century?



The administrative and legal system introduced by the British did not take shape overnight and did not evolve in a vacuum. It was spread well over eighty years, was implanted through a series of measures and acts, and was based on the initiative taken by many British administrators and thinkers.

A number of its provisions were against the background of intellectual movements in the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, which looked upon the British administration of Indian as one of its major concerns.

Cornwallis worked mainly with the ideas and perceptions which came before utilitarianism; Macaulay was a liberal who had grown up in interaction with both the missionary zeal of evangelicalism and the emerging pragmatism of 1830s and 1840s. Thus, we see him take up the codification of laws with vigour. Though he approved of this aspect of institutionalism, he did not at all agree with their goal of reforming India.

Between the concern of Cornwallis and Macaulay came the intellectual current called 'utilitarianism' with James Mill, Jeremy Bentham David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill as were its major exponents showed a special interest in the Indian question, and were largely responsible for the kind of administration and judicial system that came into being in India. The idea on India and prescription for Indian problem are:-

(i) Indian society was seen by them as completely devoid of the values of rationalism and individualism, which were seen as the essential principles for building a modern society.

(ii) A traditional and decadent society like India could be improved through proper legislation, which would impart "human justice" as against "divine justice" practiced in traditional societies. This meant that British administration with its principles of Justice and uniformity could convert India into progressive and dynamic society.

(iii) In this scheme the instrumentality of education was rejected by Mill. And so was the Indianisation of the government structure. Given their character, Indians were seen unfit in the task of their over 'modernisation'. Mill therefore dismissed the idea of giving any power and responsibility to Indians. Utilitarians prescribed a modern machine of government, run by the British.

In other words, from the 19th century onwards when information about India began trickling into the European societies, there began a debate among thinkers, scholars and administrators on the Indian problem and its solution.

Among them the utilitarian, with their well defined structure of ideas, a set of followers, their keenness on India, and the readymade applicability's of their concerns (of taxations, forms of government and administration of justice) to India, proved to be the most outspoken and effective. In 1819, James Mill was admitted into the executive government of the East Indian Company.

This made it easier for the utilitarian ideas to be implemented in the Indian situation. Their ideas can be summed up in the format of problems and prescribed solutions. The imperial interest in Interest in Indian did not remain the same throughout. They changed during the different stages of the British rule. They also represented the interests of different social groups in Britain in different stages. During the first stage of the British rule in Indian till 1813, British interests lay mainly in:-

(i) The East India Company's monopoly of trade with India, and the elimination of other European competitors,

(ii) The control over financial resources, through taxation.

Both these objectives could be fulfilled without having to disturb the existing institutions and administrative apparatus. British rules at this stage were not very different from that of traditional rulers, interested mainly in the appropriation of agricultural surplus.

No attempt was, therefore, made to create a uniform administrative structure or even to renovate the old one at this stage. No basic changes were introduced in the judicial system and administration.

Whatever little changes were made in the field of administration were only made at the top of the structure of revenue collection and were linked to the objective of smooth revenue collection. A modern judicial system a uniform administrative structure for India was not seen as necessary at this stage, since it was not considered relevant for the fulfillment of British objectives during the first stage of British rule in India. This scenario changed considerably after 1813.

The British economy and society were going through a major transformation caused mainly by the Industrial Revolution. The mercantilist trading corporations were now giving Way to the Industrial bourgeoisie which had become the dominant force in the British society.

The East India Company was gradually losing its monopoly 0ver Indian trade. The British interests in India no longer represented the "theorists of the company, but of the Industrial capitalist class. The interests of the British industrialists by in using India as

(i) A market for their manufactured industrial good,

(ii) A source of raw material (like Jute, Cotton etc.) for their industries and foodgrains, opium etc. for export.

All this required much greater penetration into Indian economy and society and control over Indian trade not only with Britain, but with other countries also. India was now expected to play a new role. It was perhaps not possible to perform the new role with the traditional administrative institutions. They had to be changed and transformed to suit the new requirements, and hence started the process of transforming Indian administration.

Similarly, the entire legal structure had to be overhauled to promote modern business, create a market economy, free commercial relations and to regulate the various economic transactions smoothly with the help of modern laws. Hence, started the process of the transformation of Indian administration and judiciary, the details of which you will need in the following section.