• In the beginning, the Company left the administration of its possessions in India in Indian hands, confining its activities to supervision. But soon found `that British aims were not adequately served by following old methods of administration. Consequently, the Company took all aspects of administration in its own hand.
  • Under Warren Hastings and Cornwallis, the administration of Bengal was completely overhauled and found a new system based on the English pattern.
  • The spread of British power to new areas, new problems, new needs, new experiences, and new ideas led to changes in the system of administration. But the overall objectives of imperialism were never forgotten.

Strength of British Administrative System

  • The British administration in India was based on three pillars −
    • The Civil Service,
    • The Army, and
    • The Police.
  • The chief aim of British-Indian administration was the maintenance of law and order and the perpetuation of British rule. Without law and order, British merchants and British manufacturers could not hope to sell their goods in every nook and corner of India.
  • The British, being foreigners, could not hope to win the affections of the Indian people; they, therefore, relied on superior force rather than on public support for the maintenance of their control over India.

Civil Service

  • The Civil Service was brought into existence by Lord Cornwallis.
  • The East India Company had from the beginning carried on its trade in the East through servants who were paid low wages but who were permitted to trade privately.
  • Later, when the Company became a territorial power, the same servants assumed administrative functions. They now became extremely corrupt by −
    • Oppressing local weavers and artisans, merchants, and zamindars,
    • Extorting bribes and ‘gifts’ from rajas and nawabs, and
    • Indulging in illegal private trade. They amassed untold wealth with which they retired to England.
  • Clive and Warren Hastings made attempts to put an end to their corruption, but were only partially successful.
  • Cornwallis, who came to India as Governor-General in 1786, was determined to purify the administration, but he realized that the Company’s servants would not give honest and efficient service so long as they were not given adequate salaries.
  • Cornwallis, therefore, enforced the rules against private trade and acceptance of presents and bribes by officials with strictness. At the same time, he raised the salaries of the Company’s servants. For example, the Collector of a district was to be paid Rs 1,500 a month and one per cent commission on the revenue collection of his district.
  • Cornwallis also laid down that promotion in the Civil Service would be by seniority so that its members would remain independent of outside influence.
  • In 1800, Lord Wellesley pointed out that even though civil servants often ruled over vast areas, they came to India at the immature age of 18 or so and were given no regular training before starting on their jobs. They generally lacked knowledge of Indian languages.
  • Wellesley, therefore, established the College of Fort William at Calcuttafor the education of young recruits to the Civil Service.
  • The Directors of the Company disapproved of his action and in 1806 replaced it by their own East Indian College at Haileybury in England.
  • Till 1853, all appointments to the Civil Service were made by the Directors of the East India Company who placated the members of the Board of Control by letting them make some of the nominations.
  • The Directors fought hard to retain this lucrative and prized privilege and refused to surrender it even when their other economic and political privileges were taken away by Parliament.
  • The Directors lost it finally in 1853 when the Charter Act decreed that all recruits to the Civil Service were to be selected through a competitive examination.
  • A special feature of the Indian Civil Service since the days of Cornwallis was the rigid and complete exclusion of Indians (from it).
  • It was laid down officially in 1793 that all the higher posts in administration worth more than £ 500 a year in salary were to be held by Englishmen. This policy was also applied to other branches of Government, such as the army, police, judiciary, and engineering.
  • The Indian Civil Service gradually developed as one of the most efficient and powerful civil services in the world.
  • Its members exercised vast power and often participated in the making of policy. They developed certain traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work, though these qualities obviously served British and not Indian interests.
  • Satyendranath Tagore was the first Indian who passed the Indian Civil Service examination in 1863 and hold 4th Rank. He was an author, linguist, song composer. He made significant contribution towards the emancipation of women in Indian society during the British Rule.


  • The army of the British regime in India was fulfilled three important functions −
    • It was the instrument through which the Indian powers were conquered;
    • It defended the British Empire in India from foreign rivals; and
    • It safeguarded British supremacy from the ever-present threat of internal revolt.
  • The bulk of the Company’s army consisted of Indian soldiers, recruited chiefly from the area at present included in U.P. and Bihar.
  • For instance, in 1857, the strength of the army in India was 311,400 of whom 265,903 were Indians. Its officers were, however, exclusively British, at least since the days of Cornwallis.
  • In 1856, only three Indians in the army received a salary of Rs. 300 per month and the highest Indian officer was a subedar.
  • A large number of Indian troops had to be employed as the British troops were too expensive. Moreover, the population of Britain was perhaps too small to provide the large number of soldiers needed for the conquest of India.
  • As a counterweight, the army was officered entirely by British officials and a certain number of British troops were maintained to keep the Indian soldiers under control.


  • Cornwallis had created the police system, which was one of the most popular strengths for the British rule.
  • Cornwallis relieved the zamindars of their police functions and established a regular police force to maintain law and order.
  • Interestingly, this put India ahead of Britain where a system of police had not developed yet.
  • Cornwallis established a system of circles or thanas headed by a daroga, who was an Indian. Later, the post of the District Superintendent of Police was mated to head the police organization in a district.
  • Once again, Indians were excluded from all superior posts. In the villages the duties of the police continued to he performed by village-watchmen who were maintained by the villagers.
  • The police gradually succeeded in reducing major crimes such as dacoity.
  • One of its major achievements was the suppression of thugs who robbed and killed travelers on the highways, particularly in Central India.
  • The police also prevented the organization of a large-scale conspiracy against foreign control, and when the national movement arose, the police were used to suppress it.

Permanent Settlement

  • Lord Cornwallis’ most conspicuous administrative measure was the Permanent Land Revenue Settlement of Bengal.

In 1793 Permanent Settlement for Bengal, Bihar and Orissa was introduced. Its special features were:
(a) The zamindars of Bengal were recognised as the owners of land as long as they paid the revenue to the East India Company regularly.
(b) The amount of revenue that the zamindars had to pay to the Company was firmly fixed and would not be raised under any circumstances. In other words the Government of the East India Company got 89% leaving the rest to the zamindars.
(c) The ryots became tenants since they were considered the tillers of the soil.
(d) This settlement took away the administrative and judicial functions of the zamindars.

  • The Permanent Settlement by declaring Zamindars as owners of land brought into existence a wealthy and privileged class of zamindars which owed its existence to British rule.
  • This class was therefore compelled by its own basic interests to support British rule.
  • The Permanent Settlement was later extended to parts of Banaras and North Madras.
  • With the Permanent Settlement, the company lost all contact with the peasants who were now at the mercy of the zamindars.
  • The fixation of revenue had no scientific basis and was adhoc.
  • The long standing ties between peasant and zamindars were arbitrarily annulled.
  • The burden of land revenue was very high.
  • The Zamindars also faced problems. Their zamindaries were auctioned for non-payment of revenue. This encouraged a new group of people to become Zamindars.
  • The urban based merchants, speculators, money lenders, etc. bought zamindaries. This group had no permanent interests in the development of land or the welfare of peasantry.
  • As a result a number of peasant uprisings took place in this region. The prominent were in 1795 in Panchet, 1798 in Raipur, 1799 in Balasore and in 1799-1800 in villages around Midnapore.
  • Bengal once known as the granary of the East became almost barren. Hunger and famine, death and disease stalked the country.

Ryotwari Settlement

  • Introduced mainly in Madras, Berar, Bombay and Assam. Sir Thomas Munro introduced this system in the Madras Presidency.
    Under this settlement:
  1. The peasant was recognised as the proprietor of land.
  2. There was no intermediary like a Zamindar between the peasant and the government.
  3. As long as the peasant paid the revenue in time, he was not evicted from the land.
  4. The land revenue was fixed for a period from 20 to 40 years at a time.
  • Here the British also recognised the mirasdars (i.e. members of village communities) and peasants who paid tax direct to state. These mirasdars became small landlords.

The ryots right of ownership was however negated by three factor:

  1. Exorbitant land revenue;
  2. Government’s right to enhance land revenue at will; and
  3. They had to pay revenue even when their produce was partially or wholly destroyed.
  • The pasture and wasteland which belonged to the village communities were now appropriated by the state. The burden of revenue also increased.

Mahalwari Settlement

  • In 1833, the Mahalwari settlement was introduced in the Punjab, the Central Provinces and parts of North Western Provinces.
  • Under this system, the basic unit of revenue settlement was the village or the Mahal. As the village lands belonged jointly to the village community, the responsibility of paying the revenue rested with the entire Mahal or the village community. So the entire land of the village was measured at the time of fixing the revenue.
  • Though the Mahalwari system eliminated middlemen between the government and the village community and brought about improvement in irrigation facility, yet its benefit was largely enjoyed by the government.