History of Law and Legal Institutions: Bengal Indigo Contract Act 10 of 1836


Dinabandhu Mitra wrote his famous play Nil Darpan translated in English later by Michael Madhusudan Dutta, which brought to focus the plight of the Indigo planters blinded by the profits of blue dye in Europe. The Indigo revolt in Bengal in 1859 has its history rooted within a 178-year-old law — Bengal Indigo Contracts Act, Act 10 of 1836 — which triggered it still remains in vogue. According to the Times of India report, which brought out this discussion, the law hasn’t been formally repealed even in its 68th year of Independence. The present status needs to be further checked. This may be the oldest law to be repealed.

The Law Commission of India in its Second Interim Report dated October 13, 2014, report titled” Obsolete Laws: Warranting Immediate Repeal” The Report stated:

“Prior to independence, the British controlled the entire trade in indigo and this Act, which was enacted by the Governor-General-in-Council, helped consolidate British rule over indigo farming by enforcing its cultivation by farmers in the erstwhile Bengal province. This Act is in disuse and a remnant of colonialism and should be repealed. However, according to Article 372(1), the competent legislature for repeal of this Act is that of the State where the Act is in force. Therefore, the Central Government should write to the concerned State Governments recommending a review of this law by the State with a view to repeal. The Central Government should also remove this law from its lists of Central Acts in force. This Act has also been recommended for repeal by the PC Jain Commission Report .” 

Article 372(1) of the Constitution of India says pre-Independence laws continue to remain in force unless amended or repealed by a competent legislature.  The report, therefore, mentions that while recommending the repeal of these laws, the legislature competent to repeal the law must also be established in accordance with Article 372(1) of the Constitution. As explained in Chapter 4 of the 248th Report, pre-Constitutional laws, even where they have been passed by the Centre, can only be repealed by the Centre if the subject matter of the law now falls within List I or III of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. Where a law falls within the domain of List II, it should be referred to the relevant State Governments for repeal.


1. The photograph on the top page is copyright work of French Photographer Oscar Mallittee.

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