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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Civil Services/bureaucracy in Government of India

“For the forms of government, let fools contest.
That which is best administered is best.
And also,
But what is best must free man still decide,
Lest leaders gull them and officials ride.”   (Finer)

” …… But with power comes responsibility” Obama


There are two kinds of people, those who are supposed to do the work, that is bureaucracy,  and those who like to take the credit, are politicians.

One of the oldest and most wonderful institution – The institution of Bureaucracy/civil services in India is the oldest and most wonderful institution the British Government had bequeathed to India. 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. British rule evolved the civil service as an efficient, professional and to a great degree incorruptible organization.

Institution that works – As Mrs Indira Gandhi had said “there are two kinds of people, those that do the work and those that take the credit.” For the governance of the country and delivering goods to public at large, the Government roughly depends on the following two general processes: –

Ø       The process of politics, which consists of activities of the elected representatives of the people, and

Ø       The process of administration which consists of the activities of permanent civil servants.

Role of the Civil Services – Usually Civil services work and politicians take the credit. Civil Services or the administrative machinery of the government, is a Professional body of officials, permanent, paid and skilled. (Finer. Theory and Practice of Modern Government, p 709,1950) The main characteristics of civil services are its efficiency, predictability, impersonal nature, and its impartial and speedy working.

Civil Services  administrative apparatus that runs the government – Civil Service is always associated with exercise of authority. Theoretically, the administrative machinery is subordinate to the elective body i.e. the Council of Ministers. But in practice, it plays a different role. The responsibility of political chiefs becomes formal, as they are forced to listen to the advice of the civil servants, which can dig and present data in a matter as they consider fit. The service role in relation to the minister is that of influence and not of power. (Paipandikar VA, Bureaucracy in India – An Empirical Study, IJPA, pp187, Vol. xvii, no.2, April-June, 1971.)

Civil Services a very potent and vital element – Civil Service is a very potent and vital element for any form of Government anywhere in the world. It is an indispensable part of any political system, be it communism, be it socialism or be it capitalism. It exists in any type of society, be it a democratic or a dictatorial society.

Performs one of the most complex tasks – Of all the acts of civilized society, the task of administration is perhaps the most complex one. It has to deal with living human beings prone to unpredictable behavior. Also it deals with the issues – political, economic or social, which directly affects public life. The administrative service could be regarded as the pillar, on which the entire structure of governance rests. Weakening of this pillar could only spell disaster (Shourie HD, Bureaucracy Baiting, The Tribune, June 18. 1992, p6).

Right persons, in right positions at right time – For any administration to be good and efficient as a whole, the right type of men placed in crucial positions is more important than laying down rules and methods of operation. (Rajagopalachari C, Talk delivered on August 14, 1955, under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel lecture). For the performance of its manifold activities, government employs thousand of workers into its administrative set-up (civil services/bureaucracy) from almost all vocations, occupations and professions. Government makes all feasible administrative, organizational and working arrangements for its employees.

 Effort to find Best talents –  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 etc. It is one of the toughest entrance examinations. There are three stages of this examination ‘Preliminary’, ‘main’ and ‘personality test’ (interview). UPSC conducts annually separate examinations for some technical/professional services.

Different vocations, occupations and professions – Apart from selecting officers for Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Foreign Service, there are some Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ Central services, officers of which are selected through Combined All India Civil Services examination like Indian P & T Accounts & Finance Service, Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Indian Customs and Central Excise Service, Indian Defense Accounts Service, Indian Revenue Service, Indian Ordnance Factories Service (Assistant Works Manager, non-technical), Indian Postal Service, Indian Civil Accounts Service, Indian Railway Traffic Service, Indian Railway Accounts Service, Indian Railway Personnel Service, Posts of Assistant Security Officer in Railway Protection Force (RPF), Indian Defense Estates Service and Indian Information Service.
Group ‘B’ Services includes Railway Board Secretariat Service (Section Officer’s Grade), Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service (Section Officer’s Grade), Customs Appraisers’ Service, Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Civil Service and Police Service, Pondicherry Civil Service.
ICS propped up as the Elite service  in the past– Earlier ICS, was propped up as an elite service. Its officers in their early twenties would arrive fresh from their ICS training at 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 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.

Presently 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 clerks/Babus’. 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? 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 analyzed.

Efficiency of ICS officers during British rule

 ‘Steel-frame of governance’ – 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.

 Senior officials not corrupt – How was the Indian Empire administered with such apparent zeal, efficiency, high-mindedness and impartiality? Even Indian nationalists were more likely than not to agree with such an assessment. One reason for this perception was that the Higher Civil Services under British rule were manifestly neither venal nor corrupt in the way in which, for example, some officials and officers of the old East India Company had been or most of the bureaucrats are today. There was, however, other forms of corruption, including assumptions of racial superiority and the conviction that the ICS always knew best.

 Gilmour comes to the sensible conclusion that the most of the higher civil services 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. 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)

‘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 it so strong and efficient?  – The factors, which made Civil service strong enough to rear and sustain British rule in India for such a long time were –
– ‘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
Indians were not allowed in Higher Civil Services  – 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. The demand for the participation of Indian nationals at higher levels of administration  continuously increased.

Dominance of Brahmins in administration – 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. They 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.
Divided Indian population – Through censuses, the rulers divided the Indian population 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, that 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.”

Fall in the standard of governance –  It  has been observed there has been a gradual decline over the years in the quality, competence and commitment of the administrative officers. Once known as the Steel frame of the Whole structure, 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. Offices in the government have become dens of corruption, mismanagement and mal-administration.

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).

 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.
Government employs thousands of workers into a governmental organization from almost all vocations, occupations and professions. Its administrative system is vertically and horizontally divided in order to meet the differing requirements and emerging developmental tasks.
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. Its recruits have to pass through a well-planned entry competitive examination and rigorous professional training.
After joining the services, the civil servants are engaged at different levels of administration and play an important role in policy-making and decision-making processes and their implementation work.

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 organizations  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 e

Working at field level – Overall evaluation, supervision, control and coordination of the work being done by the field organizations.

 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. IAS officers, like their predecessor ICS, deliberate directly at the highest level of policy formulation and decision making. They exercise state authority from day one and continue to do it till their retirement. Along with the council of Ministers, they control, virtually, all the levers of the governance of the country.

Right from its inception, IAS has attracted the maximum attention of the government and the politicians. Also for an educated youth, it is a matter of pride to be a part of IAS, as it was with the ICS in pre-independence days. Like ICS, the Government offers to IAS best career prospects, more power, higher responsibilities, higher salaries, better perquisites and superior status than any other service at the center or in the states and a place of pride in socio-political circle. Along with it, there are many other services at central, provincial and local levels in the bureaucratic set-up of the nation

Winding up –

To serve the interests of  common men – 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.’

Democratic values not allows political interference  –  As said earlier, there has been a gradual decline over the years in the quality, competence and commitment of the administrative officers. Once known as the Steel frame of the Whole structure, 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. Offices in the government have become dens of corruption, mismanagement and mal-administration.

Mr. Subharajan said during Constituent Assembly 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. It is vital for its efficient working, as an impartial and effective instrument for the governance of the country. Government of whatever political complexion may give effect to their policies through healthy relationship with administrative services

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).

November 27, 2015 - Posted by | Bureaucracy/Civil Services | ,


  1. Great post.

    Comment by Anthony Tornambe | November 7, 2016 | Reply

  2. Im thankful for the blog post. Fantastic.

    Comment by rotulos | August 15, 2018 | Reply

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