Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Origin and development of ‘Bureaucracy’/’Civil Services’ in India


The civil services in India can, without doubt, be regarded as the most remarkable of all the institutions, Britain has bequeathed to India. The term `civil service’, which is now applied to the general body of persons employed on non-combatant work connected with the administration of states, was first used in the late eighteenth century to designate those employees (known as ‘writers’) 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.

As soon as the `Rule of Company Bahadur’ was terminated and replaced by the `Rule of Crown’, a bureaucratic hierarchical structure came into existence in India. During that period, the Secretary of State for India, in Britain, was at the top the Viceroy and Governor General of India just below him; Provincial Governors/Lt. Governors/Chief Commissioners below Viceroy; and Collector/Magistrates or Deputy Commissioners and other civil servants etc. occupying the lowest rung of the four tier structure of the centralised white bureaucracy.

In India, the Viceroy and the Governor General (the supreme bureaucrat for the Government of India) was the Crown’s representative. His office was set up by the Regulating Act of 1773, while the Act of 1858 decorated its title as Viceroy and the Governor General of India. He had assumed much authority in his own hands on account of being the `man on the spot.’ All provincial and local administration was under his absolute control. Due to the policy of maintaining a uniform administrative system all over the country, his control was very extensive in the administrative field. Though the public services were recruited by the Secretary of State, it was the duty of the Government of India to lay down policies of reform and progress of the administrative system in the form of Resolutions.

The Act of 1919 and that of 1935 had relaxed Central control over the provincial administration, but Governor continued to act as the concrete embodiment of the bureaucratic administration under the absolute superintendence, direction and control of the Governor General.

The civil servants of different ranks, i.e. Commissioners/Deputy Commissioners/District Collectors and Magistrates etc., were entrusted with the responsibility of running the administration of their division, district or some such local area according to the dictates of the upper echelons of British Bureaucracy.

From 1805 to 1885, the higher civil servants were nominated by the individual Directors of the Company. From 1858 onwards, in order to make the civil services in India more efficient and well equipped, the British Civil Service Commission was created in 1855 and given the responsibility to select officials through competitive examination.

The civil service during British rule was characterized as hierarchy of officers neither chosen nor accountable to the Indian people. At the level of local administration, it meant `Raj’ to the masses of the country, as the rule of an officer “was based on fear and awe and mass obedience was extracted by repression and suppression of popular demands”. The higher civil servants were appointed and for that reason, accountable to those above them.

Post 1919 period witnessed the intensification of national movements, emergence of Gandhi and Congress and the acceptance of the methods of violence by some parties as a means to achieve independence. During this period the main task of the administration was to maintain law and order intact at any cost.

In 1947 came the Independence. With the attainment of Independence and adoption of socialist and egalitarian society as ultimate national goals, the demands on administration undergone a qualitative change. The basic task of administration changed from one of attending to routine regulatory function to that of development administration, promoting a rapid socio-economic change.

Since then, the pressure on administration has increased manifold, because of –

  • Quantitative expansion in the work load of modern governments;

  • Increasing complexity of the problems of modern governments;

  • The accelerative thrust of science & technology;

  • Demand for specialisation,

  • The rapidly rising tempo of political consciousness among masses;

  • The dependence of national stability upon the ability of government to satisfy at least a minimum of popular need and expectations;

  • An urgent need for radical change in the attitudes of the government employees

More the problems, more efficient and better equipped bureaucracy of the nation should be, its being an important instrument to solve nation’s problems, to face the challenges and meet new demands.


January 3, 2010 - Posted by | Bureaucracy/Civil Services |


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