BOARD OF ADMINISTRATION, a set of triumvirs appointed by Lord Dalhousie, the British governor general to manage affairs in the Punjab after its annexation on 29 March 1849 to the dominions of the East India Company. The Board consisted of three members. Henry Lawrence, the British resident at Lahore, was named president and entrusted with matters connected with defence and relations with the sardars while his brother, John Lawrence, was put in charge of land settlement. Charles Grenville Mansel, a covenanted civilian, was entrusted with the administration of justice.

He was replaced by Robert Montgomery after an year. The Board, placed directly under the control of the governor general, was made the final court of appeal with powers of life and death. The two regions, the cis Sutlej and the trans Sutlej, were reunited under the Board and the Punjab, along with the transIndus territories, now comprised an area of about 73,000 square miles. Its population was roughly estimated at ten million. The Board split the entire region into seven effectively controllable divisions each under a commissioner with headquarters at Ambala, Jalandhar, Lahore, Jehlum, Rawalpindi, Leiah and Multan.

These divisions were further divided into districts controlled by 29 deputy commissioners and 43 assistant commissioners. In 1850 the districts of Hazara, Peshawar and Kohat were joined together to form the eighth division. In the five tiered administration, the divisional commissioners were next to the Board. Below the commissioners were deputy commissioners, and then assistant commissioners and extra assistant commissioners. This last cadre was specially constituted to provide jobs for such of the local people as had filled offices of trust under the Sikh Darbar.

The lowest grade gazetted officer was the tahsildar. These officers were paid handsomely, monthly salary of a commissioner being Rs 2,750 and of the deputy commissioners in the first grade Rs 1,500, in the second Rs 1,200 and in the third Rs 1,000. The commissioners and deputy commissioners exercised both executive and judicial powers. The former acted as superintendents of revenue and police and as the appellate authority in civil and criminal cases as sessions judges. The deputy commissioners were collectors of revenue and magistrates, and tried civil suits above the value of Rs 1,000.

The Board of Administration had to deal with a disgruntled aristocracy and with the masses who had a strong feeling of antipathy towards their conquerors. The Punjab`s cities and villages were placarded with notices demanding the surrender of arms. In a short while, 1,19,796 arms swords and matchlocks, a few pieces of cannon, rifles and other weapons were recovered. All military grants of Sikh times were abolished. The Guides Corps, raised by Henry Lawrence as resident in 1846 and now expanded to include troops of horse as well as of infantry, was charged with maintaining peace in the Derajat and guarding the chain of fortresses which were built to prevent tribal incursions from the northwest.

For internal security ten regiments, five cavalry and five infantry, were raised. Some of the Darbar`s soldiers were absorbed into these regiments. A military police force consisting of 8,000 men, largely Punjabi Muslims, was recruited. A secret intelligence khuffa service consisting of informers and detectives was attached to the police to alert the government to the prevailing temper of the people. The old village watch and ward system was revived.

Village watchmen chaukfdars were expected to keep police informed of the movements of any strangers.Special precautions were taken in the Majha area where the rebel Sikh Bhai Maharaj Singh and his associates were reported to be active. Once the peace of the province was assured, the Board started on a programme of works of public weal. The Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Delhi was reopened.

The Harisli canal or Shah Nahar, which supplied water to the templetanks in Amritsar and to the Shalamar Gardens in Lahore was cleared, and work was started to extend it and to dig branch canals. Trees were planted on canal banks and alongside the roads. Rest houses were built to accommodate the officials on tour, and afforestation of barren lands was undertaken.Landholders were encouraged to plant trees and coppice lands were exempted from taxation.

One of the Board`s major concerns was to win over the peasantry. New varieties of crops were introduced to improve agriculture and a variety of root crops began to be grown in the plains. The revenue system was reorganized. Rules governing inheritance of property were given legal sanction.Since the tahsildar was the only official conversant with these rules and customs, he was entrusted with the necessary judicial powers.

Village panchayats were allowed to function in less important matters affecting the rural community. In cities, town councils were constituted to advise and assist English magistrates on civil matters. Practices such as the killing of female infants and sati were forbidden. The working of the Board was affected by the differences between Henry Lawrence and his brother, John.

In their mutual disputes, Lord Dalhousie openly sided with the latter. The conflict came to a head when both brothers put in their resignation at the beginning of 1853.Governor General Dalhousie abolished the Board on 4 February 1853, transferred Henry Lawrence to Rajputana and appointed John Lawrence chief commissioner of the Punjab. This change was more a matter of form, for John Lawrence continued to be in power assisted by two “principal commissioners.” Montgomery remained in charge of judiciary as well as of education, roads, police, local and municipal administration. George Edmonstone was appointed financial commissioner.

References :

1. First Administration Report of the Panjab, 1849-51
2. Smith, Vincent, A., The Oxford History of fndia.Oxford, 1958
3. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2. Princeton, 1966
4. Gough, Sir C., and A.D. Innes, The SiJchs and the Sikh Wars. London, 1897
5. Hasrat, BJ., Anglo-Sikh Relations. Hoshiarpur, 1968 H.R.G.