Lord Ripon came to India in 1880, as the viceroy. He selected by Gladstone who came to power in 1880. So he was the representative of Gladstone, an era with a strong belief in the virtues of peace, laisse-fair, and self-government.
Lord Ripon was indeed of a different stamp from the typical viceory, and in his whole Political outlook was the very antithesis of his immediate predecessor. Gladstone, the chief devotee of Liberty in Europe, explained his policy towards India thus: “our title to be in India depends on a first condition, that our being there is profitable to the Indian natives; and on a second condition, that we can make them see and understand it to profitable”.
So in Calcutta in his first public speech he said “Judge me by my acts and not by words”. With these aspirations Lord Ripon heartily sympathised and he was determined to take some forward steps in the direction of liberalising Indian government.
With the robust faith in democracy that was characteristics of him, he wished that Indian should learn even in the hand school of experience and disillusionment the lesson of self-government and self control.
Repeal of Vernacular Press Act:
The vernacular press Act passed by Lord Lytton had imposed restrictions upon the newspapers published in Indian languages. Vernacular newspapers were not allowed to publish anything likely to cause dissatisfaction among the people against the Government.
This Act was discriminatory and derogatory to the Indians because it imposed restrictions only on Vernacular newspapers and no such restrictions were imposed on newspapers published in English. Realising that the grievances of the Indians were quite genuine, Lord Ripon repealed the Act.
In his letter dated 19th February 1881 to Lord Harington communicating his decision to repeal the Act. Lord Ripon wrote thus, “The fact is that the officials in India regards the press as an evil, necessary perhaps but to kept within as narrow limits as possible.
He has no real feeling of the benefits of free discussion.” The repeal of this Act made Ripon extremely popular in India and also he earned for himself the everlasting gratitude of the people of India.
Lord Ripon also tried to improve the condition of factory workers. In order to improve the condition of the workers in the factories, the first factory Act was passed in 1881. According to this children between the ages of seven-twelve years could not be made to work for more than nine hours a day. The Act also provided that the dangerous machinery was to be properly fenced to eliminate minimise the chances of accident. Inspectors were appointed to enforce the provisions of the Act.
Financial Decentralization 1882:
Lord Ripon continued the policy of financial devolution inaugurated under Lord Mayo. At first the financial decentralization was worked well, the Government of Ripon decided to increase further the financial responsibilities of the provinces. The sources of revenue were divided into three classes, via. Imperial, provincial and divided.
i. Imperial Heads:
Revenue from customs, Posts and Telegraphs, Railways, Opium, Salt, Mint, Military Receipts, Land Revenue etc., went wholly to the Central Government and the central expenditure was to be met out of this income.
ii. Provincial Heads:
Income from subjects of local nature like jails, Medical, Printing, Roads, General administration etc., was to go entirely too provincial Governments. As the income from the transferred heads was not ordinarily sufficient for provincial requirements, the Central Government made good the deficiency in the provincial income by a grant of fixed percentage of the land revenue which otherwise remained an imperial subjects,
iii. Divided Heads:
Income from excise, stamps, forests registration etc., was divided in equal proportion among the central and provincial Governments. The division of expenditure of these heads generally followed the incidence of the corresponding heads of receipts. The Resolution of 1882 introduced the system of quinquennial settlement with the provinces.
The Chief merit of the new system was that it gave the provincial governments, a direct interest in the Divided Heads raised within their jurisdiction. The system also harmonised the financial interest of the General and Provincial Governments. Which now shared not only the receipts but also the expenditure on certain heads?
Financial settlements with the provinces were revised in 1887, 1892, and 1897. The system of Divided Heads begun by Ripon remained till it was modified by the Reforms of 1919.
Administrative reforms and development of local self-government:
The development of local self government in India owes their progress to the sincere efforts of Lord Ripon in this direction. His most significant contribution was in the field of local self-Government. He passed a resolution in 1881 which clearly stated that the time had come when further steps could be taken to develop the system of Local self-Government.
The said resolution directed the provincial Government to transfer considerable revenue to local bodies that were to deal with matters of local importance. The next step in this direction was taken by him when he passed the famous Resolution of 1882.
It was made quite clear in this resolution that the expansion of the system of local self-Government was not to improve the efficiency of the administration. To quote Lord Ripons own words, “It is not primarily with a view to improvement in administration that this measure is put forward and supported.
It is chiefly desirable as an instrument of political and popular education”. Most of his colleagues were of the opinion that the Indians were indifferent towards local self-Government and incapable of holding posts of responsibility.
He disagreed with this general view of the British Government. He believed that, in fact, the system of local self- Government had not been properly tried in India. According to him the official interference had crushed the initiative of the people in the past.
The provincial Government was directed to establish local Boards in each district. The area of each Board was too kept small so that it would know the wishes of the people and serve their interest accordingly.
The members of the Board as far as possible were to be non-officials and the number of officials could not exceed one-third of the total strength of the members of the Board. The resolution stressed the principle of election.
The Resolution of 1882 further suggested that the Indians should be encouraged to become the members of the local bodies. He ensured the help of the Government to do utmost help them in the efficient discharge of their duties. While extending Local Self-Government Lord Ripon stressed its education value also. The aim of Ripon was to give popular education to the people of India.
Educational Reforms of Lord Ripon and the Hunter Mission:
In order to enquire of the working of the Woods despatch of 1854, Lord Ripon appointed a commission consisting of 20 members with Sir W.W. Hunter as Chairman. The commission recommended the withdrawal of institutions of higher education.
It was in favour of giving them a good deal of autonomy to manage their affairs themselves. The work of management of such institutions was to be given to Indians if there were reasonable prospects of keeping up to the efficiency. Special and ordinary grants were also to be given for running of the Colleges. Special steps were taken to encourage education among the Muslims.
It was also decided that a part of the provincial revenues as to be speat on education. Universities were established in the Punjab and Allahabad in 1882 and 1887 respectively.
The Government promised to grant sums of money to private bodies to encourage them to open schools. The local bodies were also given encouragement to promote the cause of primary education in the country.
The Ilbert Bill Controversy:
Lord Ripon being a true liberal did not like race discrimination. He wanted to remove this sort of disqualification based on race distinctions that no Indian magistrate or session judge could try a European British Subject.
Consequently Sir Courtney Ilbert the then Law member of the Government of India and European Magistrates on the same footing. After having been approved by Lord Ripon’s Executive Council as well as by almost all the provincial Governments, the draft of the bill was introduced in the imperial Legislative Council in February 1882.
The British community raised a hue and cry against this bill and denounced it. They held a great public meeting in Calcutta Town hall and denounced the bill in strongest possible terms. They attack the personal integrity of Ripon.
He was insulted on the streets by the plotters. The newspaper entitled the ‘English man’ wrote, “The only people who had any right in India are the British. The so called Indian has no right whatever”. Keeping in view the growing opposition by the European community and in view also of the great increasing tension between the two communities as sent of compromise was made which amounted to a surrender of the principles for which the bill was presented.
According to the Bill every European subject brought before the Magistrate whether an Indian on European could claim to be trailed by a Jury half of whom were to be Europeans or Americans. In arriving at this compromise Lord Ripon was guided by the desire to avoid the risk of street now in Calcutta organised by the Europeans.
Civil Service Recruitment:
Before the time of Lord Ripon Civil Service competitions were held in England and the upper age limit for candidates was 18 years. Thus the Indian faced great difficulties in appearing at the civil service completetions.
Lord Ripon suggested that civil service competitions should be held simultaneously in England and India but his suggestion was not accepted by the Home Government. However, he was able to secure better facilities to Indians to compete at the examinations held’s at London by raising the age limit from 18 to 21.
Ripon was greatest and most beloved viceroy whom India has known. Florence Nightingale called “Ripon the savior of India and his rule the beginning of a golden age in India”.
Because he made the most courageous attempt to act up to the spirit of the noble proclamation of 1858 to eradicate race distinction, and to treat his Indian fellow subjects as standing on the footing of equality with their European fellow subjects…………. because he was a God fearing man….. and believed in the truth of the Lord.
Ripons name will be always cherished by the Indians with reverence and gratitude for the warmth sympathy with which he treated their aspirations. The Indians regarded him as the Champion of their liberty; His name has ever since been enshrined in the heart of the nationalist party in India as the greatest and only champion of their cause on the viceroyal throne.
When he resigned in 1884, there was a outburst of demonstration of goodwill in his favour. His journey from Calcutta to Bombay was triumphant march in which seventy million expressed their gratitude towards him.