Bureaucracy in India is a highly complex one evolved over a period spanning nearly two centuries and engaged in accomplishing tasks of amazingly wide range and variety.
It took up many functions which private enterprise performs in the developed countries of the West. This happened because private sector was either not strong or unwilling to initiate action; the historical condition thus spurred it into action. But there are also at work other forces, which push it in the same direction.
Even in the period when laissez faire provided the ideological base to decision-making in the West the bureaucracy in colonial India found itself compelled to assume welfarish role in certain areas.
India is a country of continental dimensions exhibiting exuberant differences and diversities in its geographical conditions. The people speak different languages, profess various religions and differ in their habit, manner, etiquette and culture and moreover are at different levels of development, social, economic and political.
Not only is the society not homogeneous but there are many fissiparous tendencies also at work, which pose a threat to the country’s independence and integrity and to prevent which is understandably the foremost challenge to the nation’s leadership. Besides, the country’s public administration is relatively new or novel one in relation to development.
Above all, these functions are obliged to be carried out within the ordering framework of parliamentary democracy whose hallmark is the executive’s continuous accountability to the legislature elected for a five year term on universal suffrage and which is founded on rule of law.
Bureaucracy displays an uncanny habit of rather obstinate persistence even when the ruler ship of the land changes hands. This, at any rate, seems to be the case with the British colonial system in the Indian sub-continent.
The bureaucratic system as designed by the British to suit their own requirements was inherited by Independent India in 1947, which justifies its mention here even if brief. The colonial bureaucracy was fashioned basically to carry out a limited range of functions, mostly of a regulatory nature.
Legally speaking, India achieved its independence through constitutional means – that is, under the Indian Independence Act of 1947 – which fostered a climate of continuity in most spheres. Independence was accompanied by the country’s partition, attended by reshuffling of a sizeable number of population, law and order problem and depletion of the administrative cadres by premature retirement of a large number of British and Muslim officers.
Shortly before independence in August 1947, the Indian Civil Service – the ‘steel frame’ had a total strength of 932 but its membership dwindled to 422 immediately after independence. Similar depletions occurred in other services also but the fact remains that independent India inherited an ongoing administrative system to cope with the emerging functions inherent in or incidental to statehood.
The widespread backwardness of the country, consequent on centuries’ of neglect, was to be eliminated as fast as possible and the state was the only instrument of development, the institutions and process outside the realm of the state generally found in the western countries being just not in existence or inadequate in size and strength. As a consequence, the governmental responsibilities expanded considerably even when it was absorbed in assimilating the shocks of partition.