Dalhousie implemented the Doctrine of Lapse whereby in the absence of a natural heir, the sovereignty of Indian states was to lapse to the British and such rulers were not permitted to adopt a son to inherit their kingdoms.
Dalhousie himself was not the author of this doctrine. In 1844, the Directors of the Company had declared that the permission to adopt on the failure of natural heirs “should be the exception not the rule” and should never be granted but as a special mark of favour or approbation”. As per this doctrine, on the failure of natural heirs, the sovereignty passed on the paramount power. Although it was not a policy of Dalhauise’s predecessors, but he found it convenient way of extending Company’s territories.
We note here that Dalhousie practically applied this doctrine on dependent states only. The dependent states were one of the three categories of states as follows.
Those rulers who did not pay any tribute to the British Government and never accepted the paramountcy of the British power in India were under independent States. Those States and Rajas who had accepted the paramountcy of the British Government and paid a regular tribute. They were called Protected allies.
Those Rajas and Chieftains who had been placed or installed on the throne by the British Government and had been given letter of authority for their re-installation as Rajas; were called dependent States.
The second category mentioned above needed to take necessary permission from the company for adopting son to succeed to throne. The permission was dependent on personal whim and wish of British. It was third category which was not allowed to adopt a son at all.