Administration of Justice in Calcutta Presidency before 1726


Hindustan under the Great Mughals was an economic superpower, and Bengal was its most glittering, coveted, asset. Aurangzeb bestowed upon it the title of ‘Paradise among nations’. The Mughals expansion in Bengal began during the reign of the first Mughal emperor Babur. Between the period 1576 and 1717, Bengal was ruled by a Mughal Subedar. After 1717, we can observe the establishment of the Nawabs of Bengal. 

Prior to the establishment of a proper system with respect to the administration of justice, there was a strong presence of a decadent system. Bengal was a fairly independent province, however, the steady decline of Mughal power set off a ripple effect. The administration of justice and development of courts and judicial institutions has been discussed in the following article.  


In 1608, Mughal Emperor Jahangir granted permission to the English East India Company to institute a small trading post on the west coast of India. It was followed by setting up of factories across other parts of India. In 1612, the company had already joined other trading companies to trade in Bengal.  

The East India Company set its foot in Bengal in 1633. The company obtained a Farman from Emperor Shahjahan permitting them to pursue trade and commerce in Bengal. One of the most vital privileges was obtained from the then Bengal governor Shah Shuja who permitted the company to have trade in Bengal without any customs and duties in lieu of a sum of rupees 3000 only. It is this unique privilege that led the company to assert political domination over Bengal. In 1699, the company began to develop the city as a Presidency City. It underwent rapid development and industrialization. 


In 1668, grandson of Aurangzeb, Azimush- shan, the subahdar of Bengal gave the Zamindari of villages, Calcutta, Sutanati and Govindpur for annual revenue of 1195 Rupees to the East India Company. The acquisition of Zamindari was vital to the company as it secured a legal and constitutional status within the framework of the Mughal administrative machinery.  

Zamindar during the Mughal reign, were mainly regarded rent receivers. They were merely possessors of proprietary rights in the collection of rent but not in land. However, zamindars enjoyed no significant judicial power. The zamindar of Bengal were empowered to collect land revenue, maintain law and order in their zamindari/ territory.  


Kazi Court:  

The judicial system in India had neither adopted proper procedures nor had the proper organization of the law court from the ancient India to Mughal India. The process of litigation in Hindu was mainly served either by the caste elder or village panchayats or zamindars. 

 Whereas, for the Mughals, the Kazi supervises the litigation issue. The head of the court was known as Kazi. A Kazi court dealt with both civil as well as criminal matters. The Chief Kazi was the top judicial officer and was responsible for delivering justice effectively and efficiently. It was his duty to name the Kazis of the cities, districts and provinces.  

However, a Kazi was never paid salary. Hence, they earned by fining a criminal and demanded money from the complainant as well for giving him/her justice. The post of Kazi was sold many times, at times the highest bidder became the Kazi. 

Zamindar Court: 

The attrition of the Mughals, the Zamindars acceded to administer justice in all cases, criminal, civil and revenue. Each zamindar held a court called ‘cutcherry’ to decide civil cases. The zamindars could even award capital sentences but it was subject to confirmation by the Nawab’s court at Murshidabad. However, proceedings of the zamindar courts were vague, unsatisfactory and hardly served the purpose of delivering justice. The zamindars sought to use judicial powers in personal interest, and began to use their power in a despotic manner.  

Nawab and Diwan Courts:  

The Mughal empire during its administration had employed two kinds of officers, the nawabs and the diwans. The nawabs handled matters related to that of military, criminal justice and law and order. The Nawab Court was regarded as the highest criminal court as the Nawab was the head of the Nizamat. Previously, the nawab used to preside over the court, later his adjutant Darogah- adalat- al – alia began to exercise all the judicial functions and duties of the Nawab.  

The Diwans handled matters with regards to revenue collection and administration of civil justice. The Diwan Court was regarded as the highest civil court. Previously, the diwan used to preside over the court for civil cases, later his adjutant Darogah-I-adalat-diwani began to execute the functions and duties of the Diwan. 


After acquiring the zamindari rights from the Mughals, the company assumed the functions of a zamindar. Under the company, an English member of the Governor’s Council was appointed as a collector. The collector was empowered to collect revenue and decide civil, criminal and revenue cases of the natives. The collector maintained a Fouzdari court for administration of criminal justice and Cutcherry court for civil cases.  At times, the company misused the authority given to them. Such as they served capital punishment without any confirmation from the nawab’s court of Murishdabad.  


Charter of 1726 is also known as the judicial charter as this is the beginning of development of Indian Law System and Judiciary. The Charter was issued by King George I on September 24, 1726. The objective of the charter was to bring uniformity in approach with regards to delivering justice and establishing judicial institutions across all the 3 presidency towns. Prior to the charter, courts derived their authority from the company but after the charter courts got their authority from the Royal British King. The Charter of 1726 turned over a new leaf in the evolution of judicial institutions.  


From the above reading we can observe that the Mughals never paid much attention to the judicial system during their reign. Even though, we can observe a strong classification of courts at various levels, there was no check on the way the people assigned with judicial duties. Often the posts were sold, the justice delivered was sold and corrupted.  The courts did not serve their sole purpose. The people assigned with judicial responsibilities did not carry them out properly. The system seemed good on paper but implementation was ineffective. The legal system was basic, inadequate and ineffective.  


Author: Arisia K,

Leave a Comment