In 1786 Lord Cornwallis succeeded Sirjoha Macpherson as the governor-general of India. He was the first governor-general of India who had to work under the Pitt’s India Act.
He was a nobleman of high rank and aristocratic disposition. In India he attained success by following the policy of Warren Hastings. He reformed and reorganized the administration of the company.
The servants of the company were corrupt, incompetent and irresponsible persons. Cornwallis realized that the low salaries of the company’s servants encouraged them to indulge in various kinds of private trade to augment their income. So Cornwallis decided to raise the salaries of the servants of the company.
The employees of the company were prohibited to carry on private trade. He had a low opinion about the character, ability and integrity of the Indian people. So he sought to reserve all higher posts for the Europeans. He also introduced some reforms in police department.
The districts were divided into small thanas and an Inspector was appointed in each thana. A superior officer with the designation of superintendent of police was appointed in each district to supervise the work of the Inspectors. He raised the salaries of all police officers. He separated the judiciary from executive as a result equal justice could be dispensed to all the people.
Cornwallis introduced some significant reforms in the sphere of judicial administration and tried to complete the unfinished work of Warren Hastings. During his period number of revenue districts was reduced from 35 to 23 in the Presidency of Bengal. The collector was the head of the district. In 1787 district courts were presided over by the collector. The collectors were vested with magisterial powers and empowered to administer criminal justice.
In 1790-92 further changes were made in the administration of criminal justice. The Faujdari Adalats of the districts were abolished and in their place four circuit courts were established at Dacca, Patna, Calcutta and Murshidabad. These courts were presided over by two covenanted servants of the company who decided the cases with the help of Qazis and Muftis. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was again shifted from Murshidabad to Calcutta. The Muhammadan Judge of this Adalat was removed and in his place the Governor General and Council presided over the Sadar Nizamat Adalat.
By 1793 the judicial reforms of Cornwallis took the final shape and were embodied in the famous Cornwallis Code. Separation of powers was the basis of the new reforms. The collector was deprived of all his judicial and magisterial powers. The judges tried all civil cases in the districts.
The collector was required to look after the administration and to realise the revenue of the district. Under the subordination of the District Judge Civil and criminal courts of Lower grade were established in which the Munsif and Sadar Amin tried the minor cases of the people. Appeals could be made to district court against the decisions of the Lower Courts.
Cornwallis took some steps for the improvement of trade and commerce. Since the establishment of Board of Trade at Calcutta, the company had procured goods through European and Indian contractors. These contractors often supplied goods at high prices and of low quality. Cornwallis stopped the practice of procuring supplies through contracts and started the practice of procuring supplies through Commercial Residents and agents.
These Commercial Residents fixed the prices of goods with the manufacturers and also made advances to them. Cornwallis reduced the members of the Board of Trade from eleven to five and placed it under the control of the Calcutta Council. He also issued instructions that the merchants would not be oppressed.