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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Weaknesses of Bureaucracy/civil services in India


“For the forms of government, let fools contest.

That which is best administered is best.”

   “But what is best must free man still decide.

Lest leaders gull them and officials ride.”

And also

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pigmies.” V.Hon0re De Balzac

British Government the institution  bequeathed to India – The institution of civil services in India is the oldest and most wonderful institution the British Government had bequeathed to India. British rule had evolved the institution of civil service as an efficient, professional and to a great degree incorruptible organization. It was popularly known as ‘‘the Steel Frame’ of British administrative structure”, Fortunately India, along with Pakistan, has inherited from the past, a unique administrative system, which knows, what these strategic posts are and who are the persons to hold them.

Thousands of employees in Administrative set-up – Government of India employs up (civil services/bureaucracy) from almost all vocations, occupations and professions. Government makes all feasible administrative, organizational and working atmosphere arrangements for its employees. The administrative system is vertically and horizontally divided in order to meet the differing requirements and emerging developmental tasks.

Best talents –  Officers of  civil services of government of India are selected by UPSC through a competitive Combined All India/Civil Services examination every year.  It is one of the toughest entrance examinations. In order to employ best talents in the services, every year UPSC conducts a common civil services examination (CSE) for to select personnel for many services under government of India like Indian Administrative Service (IAS), as well as for other non-IAS services like IFS, IPS and other central services for different departments like Revenue, Railways, Audit and accounts Services, civil services and Police Service for Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli , Pondicherry.

For civil services examination 2015, 9.41 lakh students registered, out of which 4.6 took preliminary test. Of it 15,008 (+1415 for Indian Forest Service Exam.) 3,308 were further shortlisted for personality test. Finally 1,236 (3.5% candidates)were appointed to the 24 services that come under Civil Services.

IAS propped up as the Elite service – During British rule, ICS was propped up as an elite service. Its officers in their early twenties would arrive to India after being trained at Cambridge or Oxford to rule single-handedly a district half as big as Wales. They were responsible for maintaining law and order and revenue collection.

Now IAS officers have wide-ranging authority in districts as collectors. and at centre as policy-makers. They have-

  • Have easy accesses to levers of power.
  • Are symbol of power – dealing directly with Ministers at centre and provinces.
  • Have smoothest career-progressions. And
  • Occupy almost all senior-most posts at centre and States.


One wonders why the steel-frame of yesteryears has failed to do its job effectively and judiciously, despite having a constitutional status with enough powers to perform their duties freely and frankly. Inefficient and ineffective performance of Bureaucracy/civil services by and large has affected the lives of millions of people. Now sarcastically, people call bureaucracy as ‘babudom’ and bureaucrats as ‘Glorified Babus’.

Why does not bureaucracy take a stand against the unjust dictates of political leaders or corrupt senior officers, who stops them from doing their jobs judiciously? Why and how civil services in India got derailed is a point to ponder. What were the reasons behind ineffective and inefficient performance needs to be analysed.

ICS, the “Steel-frame of governance” during British rule  – “It always puzzled many bigwigs like Stalin, von Ribbentrop and many other foreign observers, namely how barely a thousand British ICS (Indian Civil Service) personnel managed to rule both British India and the princely states with a combined population of well over 300 million during the first part of the twentieth century. Very few statesmen, from Bismarck to Theodore Roosevelt, doubted the quality of British rule, and, in a fascinating episode, when Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the rebel Indian National Army, flew to Berlin during the Second World War to solicit help from Hitler, the Fuehrer dismissed him, taking the view that Indians needed “to be civilized by another hundred years of British rule.” “How was the Indian Empire administered with such apparent zeal, efficiency, high-mindedness and impartiality?

“Gilmour comes to the sensible conclusion that the men of the ICS displayed a mixture of motives, skills and temperaments. A number of individuals were ‘coming to the institution through stiff competition, not the other way round’. Often a District officer in his early twenties would arrive fresh from his ICS training at Oxford to rule single-handedly a district half as big as Wales. The wide ranging responsibilities of the District Officers of the ICS were responsible for almost everything.

Structure of the – The structure of the service started from the District Officers to the Magistrates, Residents, Political Agents, Deputy Collectors, Lieutenant Governors, and so on. (From Rup Narain Das, titled ‘Marx and 1857’, published in TOI, P.22, 16.5.07, excerpts quoted from an article of Gilmour on Marx, June July 15, 1857 in New York Daily Tribune as a leading article)

The ICS – ICS (Indian Civil Service) called ‘steel-frame of administration’  Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister in his historic “Steel-frame” speech, said it very clearly on Aug.2, 1922 in the House of Commons that British civil servants were the very basis of the Empire in India and so he could not imagine any period, when they could dispense with the guidance and assistance of a small nucleus of the British civil servants. He said, “I do not care, what you build on it, if you take that Steel-frame out of the fabric, it will collapse. There is only one institution, we will not cripple, there is one institution, and we will not deprive of its functions or of its privileges and that is that institution, which build up the British Raj – the British Civil Service in India.”

What made ICS so strong and efficient?  – What made ICS was strong enough to rear and sustain British rule in India for such a long time? Some of the reasons were as  was because –

  • Family background – Most of them belonged to British professional middle classes.
  • Educational background – They had made smooth progression from school to Oxford or Cambridge.
  • Sense of responsibility – The ICS, whatever its complexion might have been, had developed traditions of independence, integrity, and hard work. They had deep sense of responsibility. However, these qualities served mainly the British rulers and not so much the Indian masses. They had full freedom and opportunity to do something worthwhile.
  • Work atmosphere – So far as it did not jeopardized the Imperial interests, ICS officers thought it their duty and took it as a challenge to provide, “Care, protection and guidance” ultimately liberty to the people, they ruled (Times of India, August 10, 1997, p2). Mr. Lines, an ex- ICS officer, said, “I suppose, we thought of a simple Indian villager… Here are simple people, who need leadership.” Mr. Arthur, another ex ICS officer, said, “Their attitude, certainly was paternalistic, which was necessary in a colonial administration.”
  • Bright career prospects – Extremely generous salaries and quick promotions.
  • Slim and trim service – just over a thousand at any given time – made for a strong sense of service loyalty.
  • Esprit-de’-corps – Philip Maser said that there was esprit-de’-corps amongst the officers. Lines pointed out, “It is the Esprit de’corps, which served to enforce a strong moral code.” It did not need to be articulated. Every body knew it.
  • Honesty – Clive Dewey said that the historical evidence pointed out to only a minute handful of officers being corrupt. It was partially their salaries, partly their background, partly their sense of duty and partly ivory tower, in which they lived, which made any rumors extremely uncomfortable (Dr. Clive Dewey, Anglo Indian attitudes, 1993).

Balance of Power – Illbert Bill controversy indicates that White bureaucrats were not at all prepared to share administrative powers with Indians, in spite of all the official declarations of 1833, 1858, 1861, 1892 and 1909.  When the demand for the participation of Indian nationals at higher levels of administration increased, the dominance of Brahmins in administration, though mainly at lower level, had cautioned the rulers. They regarded Brahmins as the main force behind the entire national movement, agitations and terrorist activities. Therefore, British rulers tried their best to balance the power in such a way, that no section of Indian society could become strong enough to pose a threat to its rule in India. British rulers managed it by adopting the following measures –

  •  Propped-up other sections of society against Upper-castes – The British thought it necessary to keep a balance of power by propping up other sections of the society in order to stop the preponderance of Brahmins and forward castes in modern callings.
  • Divide and rule – They divided Indian population, through censuses, into different groups, i.e. upper castes, backward castes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities.
  • Start of quota system – To counter Brahmin’s dominance in administration, the British designed Reservation Policy. They fixed up quotas in government jobs for different sections on the basis of caste, community, occupation, religion etc.
  • Separate representation and preferences to non-Brahmins -Through the Acts of 1909, 1919 and1932 the rulers provided separate representation to different communities in Legislative Councils and Assemblies. The rulers bestowed special benefits and preferences in education and jobs for different upcoming groups.
  • ICS remained untouched from preferential treatment till end – Though the British Government gave preferential treatment to upcoming groups in government jobs, British rulers kept the ICS untouched from the quota system till the last. They firmly and clearly said to the upcoming groups that they wouldn’t weaken their Steel frame at any cost for any body, as on it depended, efficient governance of the country.  It was told the upcoming groups in clear terms, “With its utmost desire to do so, the best for these classes, the Government will be and is powerless to help them, unless they qualify themselves to the same extent as others of their countrymen for duties of administration and public (Times of India Archives, May3, 1918).

Breakdown of the spirit of the civil services in India – With the intensification of national movement and introduction of Diarchy, the downfall in the quality of work began to fade. Pannikar says, “The Lee Commission (1923) was the first evidence of the breakdown of the spirit of the civil services in India, for after that there was no claim, that the British Civil Service in India, competent though they continued to be to the end, was anything more than a group of officers doing their work for purely material considerations. The idealism of the past had vanished” (Pannikar KM, The Development of Administration in India, Bulletin of Public Administration, Patna, Patna University’s Institution of Public Administration, vols. 2 and 3, p14.)

The Rawland Committee remarked, “The present position, in our judgment, is thoroughly unsatisfactory both from the point of view of the district officer himself, as well as, from the point of view of the efficiency of the governmental machine and welfare of the people in the district…. He is expected to see that nothing goes wrong in his district, but he has little power outside. The Magistrates and Collectors failed to see that things go right. He is supposed to compose differences between other officers, but he has no power to impose his will upon the recalcitrant. He can cajole and persuade, he can not compel… In our view, the situation, if left to itself, can only deteriorate further, because activities of the Government in the mofussil will increase and practically every department is thinking in terms of Provincialized Service and makes little attempt to disguise its determination to go ahead with its own plans, without reference to any other part of the Government” (Report of the Bengal Administrative Enquiry Committee, 1944-45, p18).

Transfer of power – In 1935, with the intensification of the nationalist movement, supported by Indian National Congress Party and growing demand for greater Indian participation in Government and its administration at higher levels, the Colonial rulers delegated some authority to the provinces. They were aware of the consequences of delegation of authority to the provinces. Therefore, they transferred to the Provincial Governments only the authority to manage the services engaged in service-functions and kept ‘control functions’ i.e. maintaining law and order and revenue collection in their own hands. Ultimately in 1947, India got its freedom as an independent country.

After independence

Civil services after the Independence  – With the attainment of Independence and adoption of socialist and egalitarian society as ultimate national goals, the demands on administration had undergone a qualitative change. The basic task of administration changed from one of attending to routine regulatory function to that of promoting a rapid socio-economic change. Bureaucracy was now expected to play a significant role in administrative and developmental work of the Government.

Dreams of constitution-framers – The forefathers of the Constitution realized the importance of civil services in order to ensure good governance to the country and providing the safety of the nation. Mr. MV Kamath said, “With the independence of our country, the responsibilities of the services have become onerous. It may make or mar the efficiency of the machinery of administration, machinery so vital for the peace and progress of the country. A country without any efficient Government service can not make progress in spite of the earnestness of the people at the helm of affairs of the country. Whatever democratic institutions exist, experience has shown, that it is essential to protect public services as far as possible from political and personal influence and to give it that position of stability and security, which is vital in its successful working, as an impartial and efficient instrument, by which Government of whatever political complexion may give effect to their policies” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. IX, p585).

Mr. Subharajan said during Constituent Assemble debates, “Without an efficient civil service, it would be impossible for the Government to carry on and continuity to be kept. The importance of the Governmental administration has been in the fact that there is continuity and unless this continuity, there is chaos” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. IX, p952).

Vallabh Bhai Patel in his letter to the Prime Minister wrote, “I need hardly emphasize, that an efficient, disciplined and contended (civil) service, assured of its prospects as a result of diligent and honest work, is a “Sine-quanan” of sound administration, under a democratic regime, even more than under an authoritarian rule. The (civil) service must be above party and we should ensure that political consideration, either in its recruitment or its discipline and control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether” (Patel Vallabh Bhai in a letter to Mr. Nehru).

After Nehru’s midnight hour speech between 14th and 15th August 1947, Dr. Radhakrishnan warned the nation, “Our opportunities are great, but let me warn you that when power outstrips ability, we will fall on evil days. We should develop competence and ability, which would help us to utilize the opportunities, which are now open to us. A free India will be judged by the way, in which it will serve the interests of the common man in the matter of food, clothing, shelter and social services.”

Need of efficient employees in administration – Civil services in Independent India Independent India required that the civil administration at every level must be equipped with officers having the capacity to meet various challenges of the modern India. The success of government’s welfare and developmental plans would depend largely upon the efficiency of its administrative cadres.

Attraction for the youth – Jobs in the Government have always remained an attraction for the youth. Entry into IAS and central services are the most sought-after jobs for students as it provides the highest entry point in bureaucracy. Government employs officers on various responsible posts after being successful  in a well-planned entry competitive examination and then go for rigorous professional training in different training institutions. making processes and their implementation work.

IAS (Indian Administrative Service), the successor of ICS after Independence After independence, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was created as the successor of ICS, which was till now a reputed, efficient and powerful service.  IAS is now an elite service meant predominantly to be engaged in control functions of Indian provinces. political circle. up of the nation.

Functions of the civil services – The civil administration, whether in Centre or in State, can be divided into two groups:

• Working in the Secretariats – Policy making body;

• Working in field organisations – for implementation of policies and plans.

Working at Secretariat level – Working in the Secretariat exposes the officers to policy perspective in diversified subjects like agriculture, horticulture, power, coal, transport etc. The work in Secretariat requires bright officers having experience and knowledge in relevant areas. The IAS officers on deputation from different states occupy most of the senior posts in Central Secretariat. In the State Secretariats also, it is the IAS Officials, who are posted on the top posts in almost every department.

Following are important functions at the level of Secretariat: –

  • Obtaining decisions on policy matters and enunciating policy decisions in clear language,
  • Overall planning and finance,
  • Legislative business,
  • Personnel management policies,
  • Legal advice,
  • Coordination and cross clearance among the administrative departments, in the Secretariat,
  • Communication with central institutions like the Planning Commission etc., and
  • Overall evaluation, supervision, control and coordination of the work being done by the field organizations.

Administration at field level – The district administration occupies a key position. ‘District Collector’ continues to play a pivotal role in the District Administration. District is the most convenient geographical unit, where the total apparatus of Civil Administration is concentrated and where officials come into direct contact with the people. Its importance arises from the fact, that it is at this level, that bulk of people gets affected, favorably or adversely by the governmental policies, programs and its implementation. It is here, that people judge the quality and efficiency of the governmental administration. It has regulatory as well as developmental tasks.

The first five or six years of service in the state are crucial for all IAS officers. During this period, they go on field postings at district level to get the feel and first hand knowledge of real life and social realities. These postings open up the minds of young officers, by bringing them into direct contact with administrative life, with people at grass-root level, with their concrete problems and with different human and social conditions prevailing there. They get acquainted with the administrative structure in the district and the relationship between various branches of Government at district headquarters.  The experience of field work enriches officials with a variety of experiences and makes them ripe for senior positions.

Besides for collection of revenue and maintenance of law and order, District collector is responsible. He also coordinates activities of various departments at district level. A collector enjoys immense power and prestige at district level.

Both kinds of work at district and in headquarter equally important – Work at Secretariat and work in the field have their distinctive challenges. For efficient performance of work in both the areas, there is need for really bright and talented officers. Corrosion of the ‘steel-frame’ after Independence With many of the old visionary leaders and bureaucrats having gone from the national and state scene in the sixties, a rot started setting up rapidly in the administrative set up.

Problems of the day

Fall in the standard of governance – After Independence the bureaucracy  has started shaking under its own pressure.  Undesirable political pressure on it increased continuously. With the result that bureaucracy in India has now appears to be unable to meet the challenges of the day and has become an ineffective and powerless institution. administration.

The political complexion of the nation underwent a revolutionary change after the fall of Rajiv Gandhi’s Government and then disappearance of Nehru-Gandhi family from the political scene. The era of instability started. Mr. VN Narayan commented on the climate of 1990’s, “We have a political problem (scams and scandals), but we have no political solution, we have a religious problem (Ayodhya), but no religious solution. There is an economic problem (poverty), but there is no economic solution (Liberalization). There is a social problem (Sectarian conflicts), but there is no societal remedy (Secularism and Mandalization). There is a socio-medical disease (cancer of corruption), but there is no socio-medical cure (ministerial resignations and reshuffles) There is only one solution to all problems – a human and spiritual solution. We have to consciously move toward humanizing our social institutions and spiritualize (not communalize or secularize) ourselves” (Narayanan VN, Hindustan Times, June 1, 1995, p13).

Bureaucrats known as ‘Babus’ –  Since beginning of 21st century, there is decline over the years in the quality, competence and commitment of the administrative officers. Rarely are factors like competence, aptitude, past experience and public spirit taken into account, while making appointments to responsible posts. Instead of known as Government officials, the bureaucrats are called ‘glorified clerks’ and bureaucracy as ‘babudom’.

Most of the bureaucrats find it more convenient to toe the line of political leaders rather than standing up for principles and paying the price for it.  The situation has led to the nexus that has developed between unscrupulous politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and criminals, as Vohra Committee has vividly described it. The appointment of tainted officers at crucial positions itself makes the intentions of the politicians clear. ism has corroded the steel frame.

Reasons , that made the difference – Reasons for derailing the whole administrative system are very simple, which are as following –

  • Intake of the material

Before Independence – Then, during British rule, the British Government was very particular about the intake of the material into its elite service. The British, according to their aims and objectives, pursued the policy of racial discrimination on the dictum of “White-man’s” superiority for the appointment in ICS. For a long time, the Indians were virtually prohibited to join this service intentionally. The rulers never wanted to give Indian any control over the governance of the country. Lord Lytton, in his confidential document, confirmed that the pledge of the Royal proclamation of 1858 was never intended to be carried out. He said, “We all know that these claims, expectations never can or will be fulfilled. We have had choose between prohibiting them (Indians) and cheating them, we have chosen the least straightforward course.” (Annie Besant, How India wrought for freedom, p420)

Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State, laid down in 1893; “It is indispensable, that an adequate number of members of the Civil Service shall always be European.” Viceroy Lord Landsdown stressed “Absolute necessity of keeping the Government of this wide-spread empire into European hands, if that empire is to be maintained.” (Bipin Chandra, Modern India, p158) In 1867, Lawrence said very (clearly, “We have conquered India by force of arms, though the policy and good Government have already aided us. In the like manner, we must hold it. The Englishmen must always be in the forefront holding the post of honor and power, as the condition of our retaining of our rule.” (Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, p497)

In Home Department Resolution of May 1904, Lord Curzon’s Government justified the policy, they were pursuing with regard to “White-man’s superiority” in Civil Service. “The highest ranks of the civil employees 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 reason that they possess partly by heredity, partly by upbringing and partly by education that knowledge of the principles of Government, the habits of the mind and vigor 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 the standard should be set by those, who have created it and are responsible for it.” (Supplement to Gazette of India, June 4, 1904, p937

After Independence – Now, after independence the hope of the best-talent syndrome belied. It was hoped that civil services would attract the best talents and most competent and qualified youth from all over India. There was a time, when it attracted the best talents of the nation. A large number of intellectuals, engineers, doctors, MBAs and other professionals joined the services. One of the reasons is that now 50% candidates are taken into the services on quota basis with relaxed standards in order to give make space for upcoming sections of society. Reservation of about 50% posts has further eroded the charm to join government services for the talented youth.

Civil services no more attract the best brains.  The willingness of talented and meritorious youths to join government services is now like a passing tide. For the last few years, constant political interference has diluted the charm to join the civil services. The youth find the work atmosphere suffocating, because there is no freedom to do any creative works. It has created many pen-pushing bureaucrats. Disincentive to hard work, merit and sincerity has demoralized the honest and hard working people.  The cream of the society either wishes to join the private sector or to go abroad. Liberalization and globalization has given a boost to this trend.

  • Bloated Size 

Under British rule – As said earlier, “It always puzzled many bigwigs like Stalin, von Ribbentrop and many other foreign observers, namely how barely a thousand British ICS (Indian Civil Service) personnel managed to rule both British India and the princely states with a combined population of well over 300 million during the first part of the twentieth century. Very few statesmen, from Bismarck to Theodore Roosevelt, doubted the quality of British rule. The cadre strength of ICS ‘the steel-frame’ and the predecessor of IAS, the elite service of Independent India, had always remained less than 1500. With that cadre strength, they were able to cope with the administrative work of the undivided India efficiently and effectively.

After independence, white elephant – There is a continuous increase in number. After Independence, the civil services have gradually grown into a bloated and top heavy service. In one of its elite service IAS, which had cadre strength of only 957 officers in 1950, is now having 4377 (as on 1.1.2012) administrators in position. The first causality of this obesity is its efficiency. In Independent India, the annual intake in IAS went up from about 33 in 1947 to 138 in 1965 and to 160 in 1985. The cadre strength in various years is given below: –

                                                                                              Strength of IAS after Independence

Year                                  Authorized   Cadre strength                                                                            In position

 1951                                     1232                                                                                                   957 (Includes 336 ICS)

1961                                    1862                                                                                                     1722 (Includes 215 ICS)

1966                                     2575                                                                                                                  2216

1971                                     3203                                                                                               2754 (Includes 88 ICS)

1976                                  3237                                                                                                        3237

1981                                      4599                                                                                                            3883

1987                                         5260                                                                                                     4633

1991                                     5334                                                                                                   4881

1994                                 4910                                                                                                  4910

2012-     6154                                   4377

Source: Civil lists Pay Commission Reports, Report of Deptt. of Personnel.

It is not only in IAS, but the number of civil servants has increased in all the services. Bureaucracy has become like a white elephant.

Outcome of this increase – The rot set in on account of continuous increase in the number of government employees resulted in:

    • Adverse effect on the “Espirit-d’corps” in the service
    • Creation of additional high level posts to accommodate timely promotions,
    • Establishment expenditure is eating away most of the resources generated by the Government for development projects.
    • Continuous increase at entry point has led to stagnation at Joint Secretary level, resulting in frustration,
    • Creation of many insignificant unnecessary posts, that has very little work or authority,
    • Generating resentment in Non-IAS Services against IAS officers for encroaching the preserves of other services,
    • Side-lining upright officers, thus discouraging excellence of performance. A large number of officers are always there in the queue, willing to toe the line (dictates) of politicians with vested interests.
    • Leading to poor communication, duplication of work, and delay in action and decision taking.
    • Creating multiple layers in administrative hierarchy, over the country


During British rule – During pre-independence days there were some 9 All India services to provide adequate manpower at the top of various disciplines + other Non ICS services of generalist nature, which were as popular as ICS was. Even within ICS, immediately after the recruitment, the officers were geared to attain knowledge and experience in specific areas for higher assignments, during probationary period and thereafter-early years of service. Broadly there were three main areas ICS (Judicial as there was not much pressure of Imperial Government on their working) or Indian Custom Service (as they always got postings in big towns).  Even after Independence, for some time, there was not much difference in the social status, career progression, standard and behavior pattern of IAS and Non IAS class I services. However since 1960 onwards, slowly but steadily, IAS has become more and more powerful and the only ‘Elite service’ under Government of India. The display by ICS officers for one kind of work rather than the other, their special knack and aptitude for particular type of work was taken into account for deciding their future career. Therefore, in practice and not in theory, the ICS was building a cadre of specialists in administration and also encouraging further specialization in particular field of administration, not through formal training, but through experience by doing job under the supervision of those, having greater experience. (LK Jha, Administrator as Specialist Management in Government, July-September, 1980)

Now, after independence -After Independence, the need of specialization in IAS, one of the most powerful service in Government of India is much more than it was for ICS. But for one reason or other, contrary is the trend. IAS does not have different functional cadres. Its officers move from one functional area to another. With the result that-

Jack of all trades, but master of none – They are “Jack of all trades, but master of none”. The knowledge of any particular area is not considered important for their appointment to senior posts. Consequently, just as politicians depend on secretaries for knowledge, secretaries depend on their subordinates and technical staff for knowledge and information.

Blind leading the other blind – Many times, when politicians are to be advised on policy issues, alternatives cannot be put forward by them properly, because they, themselves, are professionally ignorant about the subject. It is often alleged that in technical areas, the system of collecting information, analyzing data and using modern innovations is so inadequate, that policy advice is neither according to time nor fully matured. Therefore, critics say that such a practice leads to a situation, where ignorant politicians are being advised by comparatively ignorant generalist officers. The position is similar to blind leading the other blind.

Adverse effect of quick changes, from one type of job to another – The quick changes, from one type of job to another, make the knowledge of IAS officers superficial. There are some hard working and sincere IAS officers, who are eager to learn the maximum about the subject matter of their job. But they are also constrained because of the swift changes from one functional area to another. The real knowledge is obtained by sustained hard work for a long period in one type of job, which enables a person to develop innate ability needed for the smooth functioning and development of that area.

• Creation of more posts – In order to solve the problem stagnation, there the government started creating more and more posts at higher grades. As a remedial action, the Government had sub-divided one job so many times that many senior officers have hardly two or three hour of work a day. What is worse, a number of them are doing jobs, which was earlier done by their juniors.

• A battle between IAS and Non IAS – The story does not end here only. In order to avoid stagnation in its elite service, i.e., IAS, the Government is creating many cushy jobs in public sector corporations, which are manned largely by IAS officers. As a consequence, a battle is going on between IAS and non-IAS central services and also between IAS and State Civil Services just to get top posts in the public sector corporations. While this battle has become something of a scandal, no one bothers, whether services are achieving the objectives, for which they are created.

• Multiplicity of these focal points – By creating more and more posts at the top level, the Government has created too many points of control and coordination. Multiplicity of too many focal points has created overlapping of functions and jurisdictions. More men, less wok, duplication of efforts, lack of supervision and control have resulted in confusion and inefficiency.

• Swift changes makes difficult to fix responsibility – Swift changes, from one functional area to another, make it difficult to hold an officer responsible for any wrong policy. By the time, the results of a policy or the implementation of a program is evaluated, the concerned officer gets shifted to another post, department or goes back to his parent state.

• Unlimited Authority without Responsibility – It is said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The concept of “Welfare state” and “Development administration” has bestowed immense authority in the hands of Government, which is mainly exercised by the executive, meaning the ministers and the Bureaucrats. But this authority is without responsibility.

• Always someone else held responsible – Whatever may go wrong, either at the field level or at the secretariat level, an IAS officer is never held responsible. If law and order situation deteriorates in a district, IPS officer is held responsible. If a policy decision goes wrong, it is said that the IAS officers were wrongly advised by the specialists or specialized organizations dealing with that particular subject.

Lack of senior’s support

During British period – During British period, young officers were placed under the strict supervision of senior officers, who used to take keen interest in the development of their capacity to run the administration effectively. It was made clear to senior district officers, that it was very important to pay attention to the young officers, who were put under their guidance. Their success in life and reputation, as good officers, depended greatly on the assistance; they received from their seniors at the outset of their career. (GO No.738, published on April 18, 1916, ICS Manual Madras) As a result, the junior officers were groomed well on job and possessed a marked degree of professionalism in their area of activity. Their claim of superiority, over others, was clearly established.

Now after the independence – However, after independence, the scene is not like the past. Senior officers gradually lost interest in their subordinates. Reasons for it are generally the following –

• There is scarcity of experienced officers at the district level. Most of them have drifted to the central and state secretariats or to public corporations etc

• There is lack of personnel planning.

• Premature promotions – Earlier, ICS officers used to work under senior officers for about seven to eight years, before they were given independent charge as collector. Now officers have to take the responsibility of independent jobs prematurely. After foundation training of two years,   hardly a year or 18 months passes, when an IAS officer gets promoted to the responsible post of collector. He is not mature enough either service-wise or age-wise to handle the challenging job of a collector. When officer himself does not have enough experience as a collector (head of district administration), how can he take up the responsibility of training others?

• Senior officers are so occupied with their own work, that they hardly spare enough time and attention to see and guide the work of their juniors.

• Because of changing political culture, senior officers themselves are so insecure, how can they instil sense of security and confidence amongst their juniors?

• Unfortunately, now the main function of the administrative service has become to maintain status quo and defend the wrong practices of its political masters, not to guide well the junior officers or stand by them when in difficulty.

Suggestion of ARC (1968) – ARC had also suggested way back in 1968 that the IAS officers should be confined to areas, which are well known to them and should not be allowed to encroach on those areas, for which, others have acquired special knowledge and experience. (Report of ARC on Personnel Administration in Government of India, 1969, p16) All India Character  Professor Maheshvari has said, “In a never ceasing see-saw game of adjustment and bargaining between the center and the states in federal cum competitive politics, neither its all India outlook, nor its talent, nor even its supposed loyalty to the center comes into active play.” (Maheshwari SR, The All India Service, published in the lecture series of 80th Course on Personnel Policies in practice organized by 11PA, 1980, P305)

IAS is fast loosing its all India character. The Union Home Ministry has, from time to time, advised Chief Secretaries of the states not to recommend transfer of cadre members to their home states, but those with influence are able to manage it. In many states like Bihar, Punjab etc, more than 60% of the officers are from within the state. It is mainly because of the political ties. (Saxena NS, IAS and IPS at war with the state cadre, Times of India, April 6,1984) It has become very difficult for IAS officers to take the side of Union Government, while working in states. It becomes more difficult, when other parties than that of the center rule states. Working with state governments compels them to take care of local influences – political and social. In order to avoid local pressures, many officers avoid field postings. They either prefer to have postings in the state capitals or be on deputation in the central government at Delhi, where there is lesser political pressure on them.

  • Field Experience

An administrator is supposed to maintain links with the people directly through the channels of understanding and persuasion, not through authority or force. Many ICS officers claimed that earlier they had been closer to public than present day administrators.

During British rule – The work experience at district or sub-division level was considered to be a qualification for ICS officers. Personal knowledge of ground realities/village conditions was considered necessary. The rulers insisted on personal knowledge of its executives of what was happening in the farthest village. Administrative officers established and maintained contact with rural masses at the highest level of the administrative hierarchy. Great emphasis was laid on getting young officers thoroughly acquainted with village and the administrative structure dealing with matters, which touched the rural people, such as land, irrigation, Government loans etc. The most important of these, from villagers’ point of view, was his right on land – whether as owner, tenant or worker. It had to be correctly recorded. Rendering effective, just and quick service to the villagers – Also, various exaction of government, such as land revenue, higher irrigation dues, return of loans etc. were to be fairly assessed and collected. The village community had a vested interest in the efficiency and honesty of revenue system. Whatever be the motivation of British administration, it certainly rendered effective, just and quick service to the villagers. The system was so enforced and watched, that there was no escape, whatsoever from acquiring knowledge about village conditions and methods to deal with them. (Mangat Rai, Commitment my style in ICS, 1973)

Exhaustive touring from village to village – The officers used to make exhaustive tours, moving from village to village and lived a camp-life for considerably long period. The symbol and instrument of village contact was horse. This was partly because of the manner, in which these were conducted, were slow, and easy, involving staying out near village and imbibing thoroughly their atmosphere and conditions. Close contact with people, source of strength in a democracy – The close contact with the common men and the people’s faith in their uprightness gave them the strength to become the “Steel frame” of the whole system.  Now many retired ICS officers claim, that the nature of functioning before the independence was such, that they had better understanding and knowledge of the people of their area than the IAS officers of today. In a democratic, people are the source of strength – this basic truth is forgotten by most of the administrators, making them weaker.

Now, After Independence – Unfortunately, after independence and progressively over the years, importance of field experience has lost its validity. Mostly, while ‘sitting in an air-conditioned room’ or ‘living in an ivory tower’, bureaucrats are hardly aware of the problems/realities at ground level of the common-man.

  • Field experience lost its validity – Most of the officers are habitual of leading a comfortable urban life. It is difficult and troublesome for them to spend enough time in rural areas. As a result, they have to depend to a great extent on the advice of their subordinates there. Many times, there is a lack of timely and reliable information. Escape from field postings – Many smart and ambitious officers find their way out and skip sub-divisional or district experience. A study by DPAR, in 1981, has shown that in eight state cadres, 70% or more IAS officers have not done sub-divisional charge even for two years. (Seventy Seventh Report of Estimate Committee of Seventh Lok Sabha, August 17,1984, pp76-77) IAS is fast becoming a secretariat service.
  • Little grass-root contacts – The same is the story of district charge. Many officers manage their postings at the center and/or state capitals throughout their career and do not care to revive or develop what little grass-root contacts, they had earlier. Because of the improved road network in the villages and availability of fast moving vehicles, such as cars, jeeps etc, the district officers lack the intimate knowledge of the rural areas. The tendency of officers is merely to complete the formality of being on tour, as might have stipulated by the state Government. They make touch and go visits to rural areas, especially the one, which are easily accessible by road, spend the prescribed compulsory number of night halts in some wayside Dak bungalow.
  • Lack of grass-roots contacts making ‘Politicians’ stronger and ‘Bureaucrats’ weaker –Today, politicians are closer to people than bureaucrats. It is due to this lack of enough field experience, grass roots knowledge and experience in the absence of direct contact with the rural masses that the local politicians could exert pressure on administrators. It has made them stronger than bureaucrat.
  • Politicization

Before and after independence – ICS enjoyed the authority to take decisions. The ministers and politicians used to find their authority shadowy over them.

After the independence, the table was turned. Over the years bureaucrats have succumbed to the dictats of its political masters. Now, the minister dictates and the officers obey without any resistance. Dominance of political masters over administrative and economic matters has been one of the prominent features of independent India, which is responsible for the deterioration of law and order and slower rate of economic growth.

The political leaders found the authority to reward and punish officers, through transfers and postings, as an effective tool to make officers fall in line with them and be loyal to them. Honest and upright officers face quick transfers, bad entries, judicial inquiries, and loyalist officer’s prestigious postings, foreign trips special allowances etc. It has made Bureaucrats to succumb almost absolutely to political pressures.

  • Growing politicization of services and lack of support from seniors has put a negative effect on the initiative and creativity of young officers. Today the efficiency of the service as a whole is at its lowest ebb. Complete breakdown of discipline everywhere is mainly responsible for the disintegration of administrative system and its future.

Glamorous service

Until 1960s, there was very little difference between the standard and behavior of IAS officers and class I officers belonging to other services of Government of India. Today, IAS officers deal directly with politicians, plan bigger things, moves all over the world frequently. It has added glamour to the service. The result of this development has been that the IAS has attracted the attention of politicians, especially of those pursuing the sectional interest. To them, entry into IAS is the surest and quickest means to get control over others, to improve one’s status in the society, to command instant admiration and respect of the people, thus in reaching quickly to the commanding position in the society. It is supposed to be the manifest symbol of power. It makes an easy access to levers of authority. It enables them to occupy positions having immense power and privileges at the highest level in the Government. Once in service, a person could lead an easy life, is a general conception. The craze for getting into the service is increasing continuously amongst the newly emerging sections of the society. Most of the new recruits are now not bothered about the high ideals, intellectual competence and high standards of administration, commitment to public service, Constitutional values, or concern for justice. They are mainly interested in exercising the State authority over powerless people and making as much money as possible by misusing their authority.

Red tape

Jayant Narlikar, an eminent scientist, describes government functioning as the soulless movement of files. According to him, India has one of the most obdurate, cold, insular and inflexible Civil Service, the free world has ever known. (Narikar Jayant, Two Cheers for Bureaucracy, Times of India, December 13, 1995, p10) Lord Curzon’s remarks are, “Round and round like the diurnal revolution of the earth went the file – stately, solemn and slow”. Similarly, decades later, Malcolm Muggeridge observed, “It was governments pure and un-defied, endlessly minuting and circulating files, which like time itself has neither beginning nor end.” (Times of India, December 25, 1995)

What should be done?

Sufficient knowledge of the area, in which one works

 The role of civil services have become more demanding and challenging due to the complexity of modern times and fast changing social, political, economic and technological developments of the recent past. Specialization with varied experience, in present atmosphere, means that an officer for strategic senior post should have sufficient knowledge of the area he is supposed to work.  In addition to that in their own discipline, there should be varied experience of different aspects and activities concerned with it – such as planning, coordinating work at different levels, advising ministers on policy matters, taking into account the social, legal and economic constraints, particularly in his/her functional area etc. All this could be achieved only after working in any area for a reasonable period.

Basic qualification – It appears rather odd that a simple graduation is required to enter into the most prestigious service i.e. the IAS. While in other services like Indian Economic Service and Indian Statistical Service, the requirement is a post-graduate degree. In Engineering or technical services a degree in Engineering, which takes four years of rigorous graduation course. The time demands to have a cadre of more and more qualified administrators, more than in the past.  Either the administrators should be selected earlier and then trained properly for their jobs as is being done in Defence Services or MBA degree needs to be made compulsory for appearing in competitive entrance examination. Lateral entries could also be made by including bright persons already employed elsewhere, like: –

•Technocrats having sufficient experience in management,

•Professionals from other civil services,

•Entrepreneurs, willing to switch over.

Promotion policy Promotions in the service should be strictly based on good performance. Administrator should be encouraged to upgrade, sharpen, and focus their knowledge towards analysis and problem solving Closer contact with people could save bureaucrats from undue political pressure – Today’s politicians think themselves to be exclusive guardians of the people. The Administrators have, at present, lost the faith of the people.

The people doubt their credibility and efficacy of occupying policy level posts. Alienation from the common man leads the administrator to base their decisions on second hand information. Because of inadequate data, inefficient resource allocation and inward looking project monitoring; plans and policies remain, often, far away from the reality and actual needs and aspirations of the people. Closer contact, coordination with people and their confidence in administrator could save them from undue political pressure.


Many reports reveal that although an increasing number of IAS figures in corruption cases, the wheels of justice are not moving fast enough to punish the guilty. Procedural delays, political patronage and resistance from within the bureaucracy, appear to be helping corrupt officials evade the long arm of the law. People are given all kinds of excuses for the corruption prevalent in the service. Corrupt and self-seeking administrators have become expensive parasites on the system and society.

Independent machinery for transfers and promotions Extensive political controls over transfers and promotions give vast powers to them and unlimited opportunities to make money. Through delays, dilatoriness and excuses they help the greedy and power hungry politicians. In return get their patronage and good postings.

In order to provide bureaucracy functional independence and give a chance to conscientious and competent bureaucrats to contribute for good governance, recently Supreme Court ordered setting minimum tenures for bureaucrats and put curb on arbitrary transfers and postings. But lack of political will is the hurdle on the way to much required administrative reforms.

 Winding up

In short, the reasons of the corrosion of the steel-frame are poor personnel policies, excessive protectionist policies of the Government, bloated size, unbalanced infrastructural development with concentration of authority in a few hands, cumbersome office procedures, increased paper work, delay in action and decision – taking, disincentive to hard work, talent and sincerity, lack of accountability, alienation from the common man and the last but not the least tolerance of people of India, who accept sub-standard administration, giving very little challenge to the officers to upgrade their performance.


Following are the steps to be taken by the government –

  • First of all, the Government of India should merge all its civil services, technical as well as non-technical, into one unified service with an integrated pay structure and career prospects. The Government should ensure complete parity in pay scales, same time- frame for all services for getting promoted into next grade, promotional avenues and career development.
  • For efficient and effective administration, the 21st century administrative machinery needs to be lean, thin and down-sized.
  • The attainment of high standard of administration depends a great deal on the environment of work, which requires selection of capable officers, proper placement of officers and proper atmosphere of work.
  • On their part, bureaucrats require a change in attitude. They should be accountable for their decisions.
  • There is need to do field duties in districts more seriously, to get the feel of the pulse of the nation and to get people’s cooperation, not by force or use of authority, but by prompting, persuading, suggesting, stimulating and inspiring them.
  • It must be realized by every bureaucrat that he are there because of the people, not the people because of him. People are not an interruption to his work, but the purpose of it. In a country like India, where most of its people are illiterate or semi-literate, mere functional efficiency can not stir warmth. A little glow of welcome in the eyes of civil servant converts disappointment into exhilaration in the public. People, after meeting a civil servant, should return with satisfaction that they were heard patiently and sympathetically and that some one would be taking interest in their problems.

December 29, 2013 - Posted by | Bureaucracy/Civil Services |


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