Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

‘Steel-frame’ of governance in India before Independence


The civil services in India – the steel-frame on which its governance depends, can without doubt be regarded as the most remarkable of all the institutions, which Britain bequeathed to India. The term `civil service’, which is now applied to the general body of persons employed as non-combatant work connected with the administration of states, was first used in the late eighteenth century to designate those employees of East India  Company, who were engaged in Mercantile work. As the character of the company changed – its trading operations were first supplemented by territorial dominion and eventually replaced by the responsibilities of government – its civil servants were transformed from traders into administrators.

Roughly from 1606 to 1740, the civil servants were managing primarily trading operations, and incidentally administrative work which grew more and more in size as the East India Company acquired territorial possessions notably after the battle of Plassey. Precisely from 1741 to 1834, the civil servants were entrusted with purely administrative activities. By 1858, when the transfer of power from East India Company to the British Crown became a reality, the foundation of the Indian Civil Services was formally implemented. And about this period of British Rules, the Simon Commission said, “of no country can it be said more truly than of India that `Government is administration’.

Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, in his historic `Steel-frame’ speech, said that: “the British civil servants were the very basis of the Empire in India and so he could not imagine of any period, when they can dispense with the guidance and assistance of a small nucleus of the British civil servants. He, therefore, stated emphatically as follows:”…. “I do not care what you build on it. If you take that steel-frame out of the fabric, it would collapse. There is one institution we will not cripple, there is one institution we will not deprive of its functions or of its privileges; and that is that institution, which built-up the British Raj—the British Civil Service in India”.15   

15 Speech delivered on August, 2, 1827, in the House of Commons on Indian Affairs.


May 3, 2009 - Posted by | Bureaucracy/Civil Services


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