The Reforms of Lord Cornwallis (1786-1793) and Cornwallis Code

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Lord Cornwallis had no knowledge and experience of Indian affairs when he reached India in 1786. He took advantage of the reforms effected by Warren Hastings. Besides, he was ably helped by Charles Grant and Sir John Shore in revenue administrator while Sir William Jones, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, helped him in carrying out his judicial reforms. An elaborate Code of Regulations known as the “Cornwallis Code” was framed and published in 1793.

cornwallis code

Cornwallis Code

The Cornwallis Code is a body of legislation passed in 1793 by the East India Company. This code was developed by Cornwallis who was the governor of Bengal from 1786 to 1793.

The Cornwallis Code is known for some significant provisions made in it. These provisions related to governance, law and order, judicial and civil administration. The best known provision was the permanent settlement enacted in 1793.  This act established a system of revenue collection which was followed until the 20th century.

Reforms in different fields of administration by Lord Cornwallis

He carried out the following reforms in different fields of administration.

The Permanent Settlement in Bengal

The revenue administration was a complicated affair and no permanent decision was taken about it prior to the arrival of Lord Cornwallis in India. The Directors had instructed Lord Cornwallis that after assessing the revenue records of some past years, a settlement should be made with zamindars for some years but with a view that it could be made permanent in the near future. These instructions of the Directors were the primary cause of the Permanent Settlement in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa concerning revenue.

We have discussed about the permanent settlement in this article > Permanent Settlement Features

Reforms in Services

Acceptance of bribery and presents was the worst form of corruption in the civil services. Besides, the servants of the Company engaged themselves in private trade in the name of their relatives and therefore, neglected the trade of the Company. Cornwallis took some measures to stop these corrupt practices. On the one hand, he banned taking of bribes and presents and stopped private trade carried on by the servants of the Company in the name of their relatives. On the other hand, he increased the salaries of the servants so that they could become free from monetary temptations. Besides, as far as possible, he appointed only Englishmen to posts of responsibility. An Indian could not get a higher assignment than the rank of a Subedar in the army while in civil services he could not rise higher than the position of a Munsif.

Administrative Reforms

Lord Cornwallis concentrated on honesty and attempted to reduce the expenditure in carrying the administration. He carried out a few following reforms concerning administration:

  1. The number of districts in Bengal was reduced from twenty five to twenty three.
  2. Several unnecessary posts were abolished.
  3. The Collectors were deprived of their right of dispensing civil justice. It was handed over either to revenue boards or to civil courts.
  4. Cornwallis considered only merit while making appointments in the Services.

Trade Reforms

Cornwallis prohibited private trade. Besides, he took up the following measures:

  1. Duties concerning the trade of the Company were restored to the Trade Board.
  2. The number of the members of the Board of Trade was reduced.
  3. Trade representatives were appointed on commission basis to purchase goods for the Company and to sell its goods.

Police Administration

Lord Cornwallis took away the rights of the landlords of maintaining law and order. He established police posts at different places and kept policemen under Indian sub-inspectors there to look after peace and order in their respective areas. Afterwards, Indian sub-inspectors were replaced by Englishmen as far as could be possible. The magistrates were given the responsibility to supervise their working.

Judicial Reforms

Cornwallis separated the judiciary from the executive and attempted to provide justice to the common men. In this field, he tried to perfect the system established by Warren Hastings. He carried out the following reforms :-

Civil Courts

  1. The distinction between civil suits and revenue disputes was abolished.
  2. A regular hierarchy of courts was constituted. At the bottom of the organisation were the courts of Munsifs who were Indians. These courts were authorised to decide cases of disputes involving not more than rupees fifty.
  3. Above the courts of Munsifs were the courts of Indian Registrars who could take up cases involving disputes up to rupees two hundred only.
  4. Then there were district courts which heard appeals from the lower courts and wherein English judges decided disputes with the help of Indian assessors.
  5. Above district courts were four provincial courts established at Patna, Dacca, Murshidabad and Calcutta respectively. These courts dealt with original cases and also heard appeals from the lower courts. These courts were placed under three English judges who decided cases with three native assessors.
  6. At the top of all was the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta wherein the cases were decided by the governor-general and the members of his council with the assistance of Chief Qazi, two Muftis and two Pandits.
  7. Over and above it, an appeal could be made to the king of Britain and his Council.

These courts could decide the cases involving Europeans as well. Besides, many rules were framed concerning the functioning of these courts.

Criminal Courts

  1. Circuit Courts which moved from one place to another for dispensing justice were established in districts under English judges.
  2. Above them were four provincial courts established at Patna, Dacca, Murshidabad and Calcutta respectively. English judges presided over these courts. These courts could award death sentence to a person but with the prior permission of the Sadar Nizamat Adalat.
  3. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was established at Calcutta where the cases were decided by the “Governor-general-in-Council”. It was the highest criminal court. However, an appeal against its judgement could be made to the King of Britain and his Council.
  4. In all these courts, the English judges were assisted by native assessors.

Besides the establishment of different courts, some following measures were also passed:

  1. It was decided that the civil disputes would be decided according to community laws, viz., the cases of the Hindus would be decided by the Hindu laws while the cases of the Muslims would be decided by the Muslim laws.
  2. The criminal cases would be decided on the basis of Muslim laws.
  3. The government officials were held responsible for their actions in their official capacity and therefore, cases would be instituted against them in their official capacity.
  4. The Governor-general-in-Council had the right to pardon or reduce the punishment given to an individual. However, the last appeal for pardon could be made by an individual to the “British King in Council.”
  5. The Supreme Court also remained there. It, however, decided the cases involving only the Europeans.

Conclusion

Thus, Cornwallis carried out reforms in different fields of administration. These reforms were regarded as largely successful and no attempt was made by the government of the Company to change them for the next twenty years. Lord Cornwallis, however, was no innovator in reforms. In some cases he followed the instructions of the “Court of Directors” and in some others, he was benefited by the measures carried out by Warren Hastings. P.E. Roberts writes: “He actually raised the superstructure on a foundation which was laid down by Warren Hastings.” The reforms of Cornwallis were not free from certain serious defects. His Permanent Settlement certainly harmed the interests of peasants. In the same way, the establishment of judicial courts alone did not benefit the common people of India. The system was costlier and therefore, only rich people derive benefit from it. It also involved long delays which again went against the poor and the oppressed.

Points to remember

  1. Among several reforms carried out by Cornwallis, the most prominent one was the Permanent Settlement concerning the revenue.
  2. Cornwallis banned the taking of bribes and presents, stopped private trade carried on by the servants of the Company in the name of their relatives, increased the salaries of the civil servants and appointed only Englishmen to posts of responsibility.
  3. Cornwallis reduced the number of districts from 25 to 23, abolished several posts, deprived collectors of the function of dispensing civil justice and made appointments on merit only.
  4. He entrusted duties concerning trade to trade-board, reduced the number of the members of the board and appointed representatives on commission basis.
  5. Cornwallis established police posts and appointed police sub-inspectors for maintaining law and order.
  6. Lord Cornwallis separated the judiciary from executive, abolished the distinction between civil and revenue courts and established a hierarchy of civil courts, viz., courts of Munsifs, then of the Registrars, then district courts, then four provincial courts, and at the top was the Sardar Diwani Adalat.
  7. For criminal cases, circuit courts in districts and four provincial courts at Patna, Dacca, Murshidabad and Calcutta were established and, at the top was the Sardar Nizamat Adalat.
  8. The civil cases were to be decided according to community laws and the criminal cases on the basis of Muslim laws.
  9. Besides, government officials were held responsible for their actions; powers of pardon was left to the Governor-general-in-Council; and, Cornwallis Code was framed in 1793.
  10. These reforms of Lord Cornwallis were not free from defects but were useful and formed the basis of future reforms.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam notes.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Describe critically the land revenue and judicial reforms of Lord Cornwallis.

Or

Trace the evolution of the system of administration in India from Warren Hastings to Lord Cornwallis.

Or

Describe critically the reforms of Cornwallis. What do you understand by Cornwallis Code?

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