Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Bureaucracy in India Under the Crown -1858 to 1935


Civil Services during under the Crown were exclusively made to suit the special needs of British Imperial Power. It developed into one of the most efficient and powerful civil services in the world. Its members exercised and enjoyed immense power. Initiative and actions were the aims sought. They developed certain traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work, though these qualities served the British interest. They travelled to grass-roots at regular basis, keeping a constant check on corruption and in case of any slip, officials responsible were punished on the spot.

The British Government was very clear about its aims and objectives. These were to maintain law and order, to collect revenue and to perpetuate British rule in India as long as possible. The British Government in India did not favour its indulgence in any kind of social welfare activity, which would, later on, pose problems for Imperial rule in India. In accordance with these objectives, the ICS responsible for law and order situation and revenue collection, was conceived and propped up as the elite service meant predominantly for British citizens and was bestowed with all kinds of authority, favours, concessions and privileges. Owing to its high prestige, remuneration and enormous authority, it was nicknamed as the “Heaven Born Service”. At the level of local administration, ICS officers were dubbed as “Little Napoleans”. They occupied key positions in specialist departments as well. Aichinson Commission report comments. The control of certain specialist departments should always be retained into the hands of ICS officers, so as to secure that the operation of these departments could be conducted in conformity with the principle governing the general administration and to avoid inter-departmental frictions.

Due to its decisive role, these services, particularly the ICS, came to be called “Steelframe of the whole structure”, which reared and sustained the British rule in India. 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”.

From 1858 to 1919, the All India Services, specially the ICS, attracted the best talent of British Society, who graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. Though Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of 1858 declared that her subjects, of whatever race or creed, were entitled to be appointed in all her public services, the British Rulers wanted the appointments in All India Services by the dictum of “White-man’s superiority”. Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State wrote in 1893, “It is indispensably that an adequate number of members of the civil services shall always be Europeans”. Viceroy Lord Landsdown stressed: “The absolute necessity of keeping the government of this widespread empire into European hands, if the empire is to be maintained.” Lord Curzon also justified this policy by stating as follows:

The highest ranks of the civil employee in India, those in the Imperial Civil Service, the members of which are entrusted with the responsible task of carrying on the general administration of the country, though open to such Indians who proceed to England and pass the requisite tests, must nevertheless, as a general rule, be held by the Englishmen for the reasons that they possess partly by heredity, partly by upbringing and partly by education that knowledge of the principles of government, the habits of mind and vigour of character, which are essential for the task and the rule of India, being a British rule, and any other rule, being in the circumstances of the case impossible. The tone and standard should be set by those who have created it and are responsible for it.”

ICS Officers and other All India Service officers were so nurtured that they were gently but very quickly pushed up high in the society to a ruling position by the colonial bureaucracy and accepted as such by the Indian society. This, however, was shocking to some officers in the beginning, such as Humphery Trevelyan (ICS, Madras, 1929), who said:

I was keen to work, to improve my knowledge in Tamil, to get to know and understood my new Indian surroundings. I was told to get to know only the station… The stock was severe. I was rude, precocious, arrogant and insecure, unwilling to adjust myself to new surroundings or to understand this little British community, however limited their outlook, was doing their jobs ably and conscientiously.”

Iyengar, a senior ICS Officer, joining the Executive side, was made aware on the very first day in the service that he was “a member of anew caste, which had its own rigid rules and regulations and lived a life far remote from that of common people”. Edward Wakefield (ICS, Punjab, 1921) was shocked to find that in the meetings with local councillors, nobody would express a view until he had given a lead. He said, “This difference annoyed and embarrassed me. I had come to India to serve—but I was not permitted to serve, I was permitted only to lead”.

They, however, become accustomed to such way of life slowly and gradually. Sir Edmund Blunt expressed: “The superior Indian Civil Servants were the practical owners of India, irrepressible and amenable to no authority, but that of their fellow members.” Dr.Fisher also confirmed it by saying “it is the government”. According to Moilley: “In reality the ultimate voice is that of the Indian official opinion, in the sense that a measure would not be forced on India against the united opposition of the Indian bureaucracy.” Cohen remarked: “The British Officers in India formed most unusual kind of society with a fossil culture, cut-off from close contact with home, recruited from several groups in English middle and upper class society and with diverse education. Cut-off also from the most real contact with Indian Society, they had to carry out the complex administrative tasks and constantly had to make decisions”.

Later on, slowly but steadily, Civil Services under the Crown not only became rigid in its class structure, but also became bureaucratic in methods and procedure of work. Unlike the decentralised administration during the East India Company, the growth of rapid means of communication made centralisation of administration possible. The whole system, from top to bottom, became well-knit, highly centralised and behaved like an unbreakable steel frame with all the characteristics of a full-fledged Autocracy. Centralisation tightened the regulatory functions of the officials to supervise and control the subordinate officials and made the office procedure elaborate and cumbersome. Sir William Hunter commented, “He governed most, who wrote most”. Thus came into being multiplication of reports, returns and correspondence and obsession for office work.

Routine work and cumbersome office procedures severely affected the power of initiative and enterprise which were found in abundance in the older generation of the civil service. So much so that it was said – “those officers, who once wielded the sword so fearlessly began to grumble under the tyranny of pen.”


June 18, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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