London: Thirty-eight pieces of legislation
related to the construction and maintenance of the railways
network in India during British rule the first dated 1849
and the latest of 1942 are set to be scrapped under a draft
bill proposed by the Law Commission.
The history of the 38 acts reflects the challenge of
constructing and maintaining one of the largest railway
networks in the world across vast distances in the
The acts have remained on the statute books, and have now
been identified to be scrapped.
The 38 acts are among several old pieces of legislation
considered "as being spent, obsolete, unnecessary or otherwise
not now of practical utility".
The draft bill to scrap the acts has been presented to
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.
The acts include those enacted during the rule of the
East India Company and later when the governance of India was
taken over by the British Crown after India`s first war of
independence in 1857, and the railway network came under state
The 38 acts include the Great Indian Peninsula Railway
Company Act, 1849; Assam Railways and Trading Company’s Act,
1897; Oude Railway Act, 1858; Scinde Railway Act, 1857; Great
Southern of India Railway Act, 1858; and the Bombay Baroda and
Central India Railway Act 1942.
Setting out the historical context of the 38 acts, the
draft bill notes that the benefits of harnessing travel by
rail as a means of connecting British India were recognised by
the East India Company in 1843, but it was unable (and
unwilling) to finance the construction and running costs on
"The East India Company’s solution was a
quasi-public/private partnership arrangement whereby
ownership, control and risk would be shared, underpinned and
secured by a system of public guarantees," the bill notes.
It adds: "English companies were invited to bear the
construction costs of the new rail network in India, and to
own the relevant operational undertakings. In return, the East
India Company (the quasi-public partner in the enterprise)
would guarantee the railway shareholders a 5 per cent return
on their capital investment, make available land without cost
and offer 99 year operating contracts".
The first passenger train ran (under the auspices of the
Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company) from Mumbai (Bombay)
to Thane in April 1853, followed in August 1854 by the
inaugural run of the East Indian Railway Company between
Howrah and Hooghly.
These early successes encouraged British private
investment, which continued until 1868 (reaching a total of
some 70 million pounds).
In 1858 the British Crown assumed direct governance of
British India, and from 1868 onwards, the bill notes that
"either by the surrender of railway undertakings under the
terms of the previous guarantees, or by direct investment and
construction, the government of India embarked upon
development of the railway network as a form of state
A new Railway Board was formed in 1905 under Sir Thomas
Robertson. By then, the railway companies were simply
operating companies, running the network on behalf of the
government of British India.
The bill adds: "By 1920 the government owned almost
three-quarters of the total railway mileage in India. This was
nationalisation effected piecemeal. Nationalisation proper
started in 1925 (following publication of the Acworth Report
in 1921) when the state took over management of the East
Indian and Great Indian Peninsula Railways. From 1929 to 1944
the bulk of the Indian railway network had been nationalized".
When Pakistan and India became independent in 1947, the
railway system was divided.
The Indian High Commission and the Railway Board were
consulted as part of the repeal process.