The 200 years of British raj left behind in India a body of highly skilled and talented civil servants. Originally and exclusively British, by the 1930s and 1940s, there were only a few Indians among them. This class was termed the steel frame of India – with justification that a handful of British Viceroys and
Governors could run a vast country like India. By independence, the ICS got transformed into the IAS and competitive examinations ensured that the very best of young Indian made into it. It remained and still remains, an elite body of generalists.
Independent India passed through many upheavals in the early years and it was the neutral, efficient Civil Service, which made it possible to steer through many of them.
The IAS pattern of centralised administration served the country’s interests quite well until about the early Seventies, because on the political side the Congress party was dominant throughout the country which ensured a uniformity of sorts. And on the economic side, the centralised planning and controls served the purpose of growth.
The omnipotence of the civil servants in the economic field withered away much after the liberalisation policies of the nineties.
Today even after the adoption of liberalisation, the power of the government and consequently, of the IAS in the economic field is still vast. Many key nationalised industries are still state-owned and even in fields such as civil aviation, where private companies have been allowed to enter, the controlling or regulatory bodies tend to be that of the generalist civil servants. They resist every effort to give regulatory functions to independent bodies.
The attraction of high salaries, perks, privileges and security of tenure as well as the absence of specific job requirements (unlike other all India and Central services) has led to an exodus of doctors, engineers, technologists, computer specialists, scientists, researchers, etc. to the IAS. Not only is this a waste of the country’s resource expended on training, it also deprives other sectors of the economy-business, trade, industry, education, health services, etc. of trained manpower.
Today the IAS is the sole executive magistracy available to the government of India, which applies the laws and regulations in the ever expanding sphere of state activity.
There is a primary divergence between the norms of government in modern democratic state and modern management theories. The principles on which the permanent civil service is based and its functions are as old as human civilisation, while modern management is less than a century old
A study across a range of countries speaks that well-functioning bureaucracies can promote growth and reduce poverty. They can provide sound policy inputs and deliver critical public goods and services at least cost. Of the more than three and half million central government employees, less than 1 per cent constitutes the Group A services. And out of the latter, a minuscule fraction comprises the All India Services.