Essay on the Origin and Development of Bureaucracy 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 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 Plessey.

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 had 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.

The state services are constituted department wise and are divided, as at the centre, into Group A, Group B, Group C, and Group D, corresponding to the responsibility of the work performed and the qualifications required.


The most prestigious Group A services is the generalist administrative service a certain percentage of whose members are annually promoted into the IAS. However, the state services are generally rated as inferior to the central services as their pay-scales are not very competitive and promotion aspects limited. The following table shows the number of civil servants under the various state governments, the figures being of the year 1980.

The higher civil servants in India are generally drawn from the urban middle class even though seventy-seven percent of the country’s population lives in villages and what is more, only fifteen percent or so of the entire society falls in the category of middle class.

The number of universities is over 150 in the country but most of the successful candidates in the competitive examination come from a small number of universities: Universities of Delhi, Allahabad, Punjab, Madras, Rajasthan and Utkal followed by five other universities Calcutta, Patna, Agra, Lucknow, and Meerut.

A very good proportion of higher civil servants, particularly those belonging to the IAS, are the offspring’s of civil servants and a substantial percentage of them emerge from families engaged in learned professions.

There is, over a period of time, a certain widening of the social and educational background of the recruits, which is attributable to a steady expansion of education in the society and the adoption of various egalitarian measures by the government, and this process is further stimulated by the policy of positive discrimination in favour of the members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and all these vacancies are getting filled up as members of these castes and tribes are taking advantage of modern education and coming forward for jobs.

Since 1968, the system of reservation has been extended to promotion also, a provision which has sparked off countrywide controversy about its propriety. Anyway, affirmative action by the State has inducted hither to neglected sections of the society into bureaucracy thus broadening its social base.

Along with this is a more representative distribution of the speakers of various Indian languages. Yet, there are no great attitudinal changes manifested by the civil servants coming from the newly opened social groups, the young being socialized in the values of their seniors.

The civil service in India is so designed as to confer an undisguised hegemonic role to the generalist Indian Administrative Service.

The emoluments of this service are the best, promotional prospects bright, service conditions satisfactory and fringe benefits enviable.

Developmental activities taken up since Independence have resulted in the recruitment of a large number of specialists in various areas of administration but the status accorded to them in the government is not commensurate with their contribution, both actual and potential, to the building up of physical assets in the society.

While a large percentage of the IAS members are to be found in the higher ranges of pay scale the reverse is the case with medical doctors and engineers in India, a large number of them falling in the lower income band of their respective pay scales? Inevitably, this affects their motivation and morale with impact on development, only one manifestation of this being the ‘brain-drain1.

The civil service in India, one would note, consists of a number of unequal services with little inter- service communication, much less mobility. Administration being an integrated process, the resultant inter-service disharmony poses a problem in the way of synchronized action.

This is recognized by many but with no serious determination to curb it. The Administrative Reforms Commission (1966-70) had sought to open the road to the top to all possessing merit and recommended a unified grading structure but the recommendation was rejected.

Though recruitment is based on merit objectively tested by the Union Public Service Commission, the civil service of the country has become politicized over a period of time. Matters like postings,
transfers, promotions etc. are decided by the executive and as such the politically appointed ministers increasingly look to these as handy devices of reward and punishment. Careerism in the civil service makes its members receptive to the unholy signals of the ministers.

There is, as a result, growing political interference in administration and, as often as not, both the civil servant and the politician have learnt by now to accommodate each other in a wide variety of matters. Civil Service ethics in India is consequently under heavy stress, and one manifestation of this is rather widespread corruption.

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