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As Dhankhar moves to Center, a Raj Bhavan bond

AS ITS most recent occupant, Jagdeep Dhankhar, prepares to be sworn in as the country’s vice president, there is another connection between the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata and our national parliament.

A building linked to the legislative history of our country, the Bhavan has a room on the first floor that is distinct from the others with its white walls and functional furnishings, unlike the other rooms of the sprawling structure with their priceless art and carpets. This is the Council Chamber, where the first “central though rudimentary” legislature of pre-independent India began its journey.

We can trace the evolution of modern legislative institutions back to the East India Company. Its officers were empowered to make laws under the charter given by the British government in 1601. A council of senior officers of the society handled the administration of the society in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. These colonies were independent, each with its own committee, and their meeting place was the council hall in the respective towns.

Over the next 170 years, the commercial society will spread its tentacles and become a political and territorial power. The changing nature of the business would eventually lead to the British parliament taking a greater interest in its affairs. Centralization of power accompanied this change and Calcutta (as it was then called) became the seat of administration. The Regulation of the British Parliament Act 1773 made the Presidency of Bengal supreme, and its Governor became the Governor-General, assisted by a council of four members. Until the beginning of the 19th century, the governor general and his council met in different buildings in Calcutta. A permanent place for these meetings was born from the construction of a house for the governor general. Until then, governors had no official residence and lived in houses rented from local moguls, which some found unsatisfactory.

A Frenchman traveling in Calcutta in 1798 wrote: “The Governor-General of the English colonies east of the Cape of Good Hope resides in Calcutta…As there is as yet no palace built for him, he lives in a house on the Esplanade, opposite the Citadel. . The house is beautiful, but nowhere near what it should be for such an important character. Many individuals in the city have equally good houses; and if the Governor was disposed to some extraordinary luxury, he had to curb his inclination for want of the necessary room. The house of the governor of Pondicherry is much more magnificent.

A home in Calcutta worthy of the representative of the East India Company was envisioned by Governor General Richard Colley Wellesley. He was an Irish aristocrat who was appointed Governor General in 1797 and took office a month before his 38th birthday. He would spend the money to build Government House (now Raj Bhavan) and throw a party to mark its opening in 1803. After that, his tenure in India was short-lived, as the excesses associated with the construction would cost him his post as governor. .

In the years to come, the British Parliament began to exert more control over the business in India. In 1833 he enacted legislation to strip the company of its commercial rights and separate the executive and legislative functions of the Council. The act would establish a Legislative Council for all British territories in India and appoint a member of the act. The meeting place of this organ would be the Council room on the first floor of the Hôtel du Gouvernement.

The changes of the 1850s would lay the foundations for modern parliamentary functioning in the country. The legislative deliberations of the Council were conducted orally, instead of being written as had been done previously, bills began to be considered by select committees, and the deliberations of the Legislative Council became open to the public and reportable by the hurry.

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The Indian Penal Code of 1860, which defines crime and punishment in the country, was discussed and passed in this Council Chamber. Some deliberations of the Council also generated considerable public interest, such as the Ilbert Bill of 1883, which allowed Indian judges to preside over cases involving British subjects. The discussion of the law was to be held in a room outside of the Council Chambers to accommodate anyone interested in the debate. The British built another council hall in the government house at Shimla when the government moved to the hills during the summers. And when the capital of British India moved to Delhi, so did the Legislative Council and its House.