Lord Cornwallis Reforms in India (1786-1793)

Lord Cornwallis came to India in 1886 as the Governor General. He was an honest man of that high house. At that time there was corruption in the Company’s governance which he wanted to end. So as soon as he arrived and made a program of reforms.

The Reforms of Lord Cornwallis

Due to the ‘Pitt’s India Act’ being enacted and the full support of the Government of England, Cornwallis did not face difficulties. Therefore, he made reforms in various areas, the main ones being the following:

1. Administrative Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis first tried to remove the corruption prevalent in the company and make it dutiful. The employees lacked ethics and sense of responsibility. He was busy earning more and more money.

He believed that due to low wages to the employees, they take bribe and encourage corruption. So he increased his salary. The employees of the company also carried on their private business. Due to this, he could not pay special attention to the work of the company. Therefore, he made many strict rules for the purpose of stopping this, at that time the appointment of the high officers of the company was not on merit but on the basis of lobbying. This also encouraged corruption. Therefore, Cornwallis ended this practice and started the practice of appointment on the basis of merit. Apart from this, many such posts, which were given to please the directors of the company and the members of the Board of Control, were abolished.

But the biggest drawback of Cornwallis was that he did not believe in the merit of Indians and considered them completely unfit for public service. For this reason he banned the appointment of Indians to high posts.

Cornwallis separated the executive from the judiciary for administrative convenience.

2. Military Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis also brought reforms in the field of the army. This made arrangements for recruitment in the Company’s army on the basis of merit. Now soldiers were appointed in England. The number of English soldiers was increased.

3. Police Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Till now the responsibility of the police system was on the landlords. Cornwallis abolished this system, snatching its responsibility from the landlords and handed it over to the government employees. A new police department was established which looked after police matters. Several police stations were formed in each of the districts, which were under the supervision of a daroga. The inspector was under the collector. To prevent crime, collectors were given 10% of the stolen goods as an incentive. To compensate for the expenditure of this department, a small amount of tax was levied on the shops of big places.

4. Judicial Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis made significant reforms in the field of justice. He snatched the work of justice from the district collectors and arranged for him separate British judges who were called ‘District Judges’. It was the head of the district in the field of justice. Appeals against their decisions were made in the provincial courts at Calcutta, Murshidabad, Patna and Dhaka. Appeal against its decision was made in the Sadar Diwani and Sadar Nizamat courts established in Calcutta in which the Governor General and the members of his council acted as judges. The Munsif and Sadar Amin used to do justice work under the District Judge. This was the lowest court. The lowest court for criminal cases was that of the Daroga.

For the purpose of improving the field of justice, Cornwallis compiled various rules and prepared a comprehensive collection which was called ‘Cornwallis Code’. He fixed the fees of the lawyers and arranged that the lawyers who paid more fees would be disqualified. He made arrangements to publish and preserve the orders and rules.

For the admission of a good and character person in the Justice Department, he arranged a good salary for them.

In this way Cornwallis brought about very important reforms in the field of justice. That is why he is called the ‘father of the modern Indian judicial system’.

5. Commercial Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis also made many reforms in the field of trade. At that time the company used to buy its goods from European and Indian contractors in which corruption was rampant. Those contractors used to bribe the members of the trade board and give substandard goods at high prices. Therefore, Cornwallis ended the tenancy system and entrusted the task of buying goods to the Indian merchants. Company servants were made commission agents. They used to secure the goods by paying advance to the manufacturers and collected taxes on them. Due to this the company started getting the goods cheaper. Now Indian weavers could sell their goods in the hands of other than the employees of the company. They were obliged to pay the employees of the company only what they were given in advance. The trade reforms carried out by Cornwallis continued till the end of the British Empire.

6. Revenue Reforms by Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis made significant reforms in the area of ​​rent which continued till the end of the British Empire. The tax system before that was flawed. The company did not have a fixed amount of revenue from rent, which made it difficult to prepare the budget. Because the bidders of higher rent were given land for one year. But Cornwallis first arranged to give them land for 10 years and later (in 1793 AD) the land was given permanently to the zamindars and they were given the right to receive a certain amount from the farmers. The zamindars had to pay a fixed amount every year as tax to the government. This fixed the income of the government. The peasants got the right to approach the courts after the zamindars collected more rent. The landlords also got the right to sell the land. In case of non-payment of tax to the government, the land was confiscated to the landlords. This was known as the ‘Permanent System’.

While this arrangement fixed the income of the company, it also caused many losses. Due to improper measurement of land, the rate of rent was fixed less. A lot of tax was collected from the farmers by the landlords, due to which the condition of the farmers became pathetic. Later, in the places where the British took control, the rates of rent were very high, due to which the landlords also suffered a lot. The zamindars who were not in a position to pay taxes to the government, their land was confiscated. Some big landlords had settled in the cities by handing over their lands to the contractors. Therefore, the farmers there were in great trouble because their relatives used to misbehave with the farmers.


In this way we can say that Cornwallis was a great reformer and tried to end corruption by bringing reforms in every area of ​​governance. By bringing reforms in the field of justice, he separated the judiciary from the executive. The tax reforms were also very important. But he had made a big mistake by not believing in the ability of Indians.

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