Administrative Organization of the British


Army fulfilled four important functions:

  1. Instrument to conquer Indian powers
  2. Defended the British Empire in India against foreign rivals
  3. Safe-guarded against internal revolt
  4. Chief instrument for extending and defending the British Empire in Asia and Africa.

Bulk of the army consisted of Indians. In 1857, of the total strength of 311400, about 265900 were Indians. Highest Indian rank was that of Subedar.

British could conquer and control India through a predominantly Indian army because:

  1. There was absence of modern nationalism at that time
  2. The company paid its soldiers regularly and well, as opposed to the Indian rulers and chieftains.


Cornwallis was responsible for the creation of a modern police system in India. He established a system of Thanas (or circles) headed by a daroga. The police:

  1. Prevented organization of a large-scale conspiracy against foreign control
  2. Was used to suppress the national movement.


Though started by Hastings, the system was stabilized by Cornwallis.

Civil Cases

District: Diwani Adalat (civil court) presided over by the District Judge

Provincial Court: Appeal from civil court

Sardar Diwani Adalat: Highest appeal

There were also, below the District Court, Registrar’s Court (headed by Europeans) and subordinate courts headed by Indians known as munsifs or amins.

Criminal Cases

4 divisions of Bengal presidency. Each had a Court of Circuit presided over by the civil servants. Appeals could be made to Sardar Nizamat Adalat.

William Bentinck:

  • Abolished the provincial courts of appeal and circuit
  • Their work was assigned to District Collectors
  • Raised the status and power of Indians in the Judicial service.

In 1865, High Courts were established at Madras, Calcutta and Bombay.

British brought about  uniformity in the system of law. In 1833, the government appointed Law Commission headed by Macaulay to codify Indian Laws. This eventually resulted in the Indian Penal Code, Code of Civil and Criminal Procedures and other codes of laws.

Changes in Administrative structure during British period

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.

British administration in India was based on three pillars :

  • The Civil Service
  • The Army
  • The Police.

The civil services

The civil service was brought into existence by Lord Cornwallis. The whole administrative machinery was corrupted when Lord Cornwallis first came to India in 1786.He tried to purify the very structure of the civil services by bringing about a number reforms in it. He enforced the rules against private trade and acceptance of presents and bribes by officials with strictness. Cornwallis also laid down a rule that promotion in the civil service would be on the basis of seniority so that its members would remain independent of outside influence. He did not have faith in the efficiency and honesty of Indians. Therefore he appointed only Europeans to all higher posts.   In 1800 Fort William College was established at Calcutta during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Wellesley to train the young officers recruited for civil services. In 1806, the Directors of the Company shifted the venue of the training of civil service officers from Calcutta to the East Indian College at Haileybury in England.

Merit was made the basis of selection to the public services for the first time by the Charter Act of 1833. A committee was appointed under Lord Macaulay in 1834 for implementation of this provision. The committee suggested fixing the maximum age for eligibility to the examination at 18 years. But it was not implemented. Till 1853 all appointments to the civil service were made by the Directors of the East India Company. But the Charter Act of 1853 decreed that all recruits to the civil service were to be selected through a competitive examination.  The Indian Civil Service gradually developed into one of the most efficient and powerful civil service in the world. Its members exercised vast power and often participated in the making of policy. They protected the British interests in India by their honesty, diligence and untiring hard work. Undoubtedly, the Indian Civil Service was the main pillar of the British East India Company.   Along with the civil service, the army and police system under the British also needs to be mentioned here.  The army was the instrument through which the Indian powers were conquered. It defended the British Empire in India from foreign rivals and safeguarded British supremacy from internal revolts. With the help of their army, the British were able to extend their empire in Asia and Africa too.

The majority of the Company’s army consisted of Indian soldiers, recruited chiefly from the area at present included in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Its affairs were, however controlled exclusively by the British. The British recruited a large number of Indians soldiers as the British soldiers were much expensive. Moreover, the population of Britain was perhaps too small to provide the required number of soldiers. A large number of soldiers in the army could pose a grave danger to the British administration. In order to strike a balance, only the English were appointed to high posts and a certain number of British troops were maintained to keep the Indian soldiers under control.  The credit for creating an effective police system also goes to Lord Cornwallis. Prior to this the Zamindars were responsible for the maintenance of law and order in their areas. Cornwallis relieved them of this duty. He established a regular police force to maintain law and order. Cornwallis modernized the old system of thanas. He divided the districts of Bengal into various circle or thanas in 1792, headed by a Daroga, who was an Indian. Later the post of the District Superintendent of Police was created to head the police organization in a district. Once again, Indians were excluded from all senior posts. The village watchmen performed the duty of police in the villages. The village was responsible for the maintenance of the village watchman.


Up to the Revolt, an even for a long time after that, the presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras maintained separate armies under separate army commanders. Although the Commander- in-Chief of Bengal Army became nominally the head of the military forces in India, the Govern­ments of Bombay and Madras managed their own forces.

The ‘1857 revolt’ forced the British Government to introduce changes in the structure of army. Several steps were taken to minimize, if not completely eliminate, the capacity of Indian soldiers to revolt.

  • The domination of army by its European branch was carefully granted through raising the proportion of Europeans to Indians and was fixed at ‘one to two’ in the Bengal Army, and two to five in the Madras and Bombay armies.
  • The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions.
  • The crucial branches of army like artillery and later in 20th century, tanks and armoured crops were put exclusively in European hands.
  • The older policy of excluding Indians from the officers’ corps was strictly maintained. Till 1914 no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar.
  • The organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of ‘balance and counter-poise’ or ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent the chance of uniting against in an anti- British uprising.
  • Discrimination on the basis of caste, region and religion was practised in recruitment to the any. A fiction was created that Indians consisted of ‘martial’ and ‘non-martial’ classes. Sol­diers from Awadh, Bihar, Central India and South India, who had first helped the British to conquer India but later participated in the revolt, were declared to be non-martial.

The police

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.

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