How the British Empire’s Civil Services became the IAS

10 Jun 2021  Read 192 Views

With the ever-increasing number of aspirants appearing for the civil services examination, it evidently demonstrates the craze of the UPSC examination among the Indian youth. But what is the history behind this most coveted examination? Let us understand in this article!

Indian Civil Service is one of the oldest administrative systems in the world. Civil Service refers to the regulatory administration of the state which is liable for all the recommendations made by the political executive, which consists of the elected agents in a democracy. Civil service was prevalent in India since the ancient past; however, it was very different from what it is now.

Indian Civil Service before the British Rule

The Indian Civil Service originated in ancient India during the Mauryan period. The expanding empire during Mauryan rule required meritorious civil servants for efficient administration. The Mauryan administration employed civil servants in the name of Rajukas and Adhyakshas. Kautilya’s Arthashastra laid down the following principles:

  • The principles of selection of the civil servants

  • Promotion of the Civil Servants

  • Conditions of loyalty for appointment to the service

  • The method to evaluate their performance

  • Code of Conduct

  • Checks and balances on their appointments

  • Briefing the king regarding the performance of the civil servants on a regular basis.

A similar system of governance also existed during the Gupta Empire. In order to rank officers depending on the number of troops commanded by them, the Mughals introduced an elaborate bureaucracy. This system came to be known as the Mansabdari System.

Civil Service under East India Company Rule

In 1600 A.D., the Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I incorporated the East India Company in order to trade in silk, spices and other profitable Indian commodities. Besides trade, the company also established factories and outposts along the Indian coasts, notably in the then Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Personnels were needed to defend the company premises which led to the recruitment of soldiers for the factories which later became their forts. However, there was no specific service for governance laid down by the East India Company as its mandate was limited to commerce. The Directors of the company used to nominate the officers of the East India Company who were then trained at the Haileybury College in London and then sent back to India. 

The company’s management was brought under the control of the British Government by the Regulating Act of 1773. After becoming the Governor-General of India in 1786, Lord Cornwallis brought about a series of administrative and legal reforms. Also referred to as the Father of Civil Service in India, he enacted the Cornwallis Code in 1793 in order to improve the governance of the East India Company in India. By doing this, he reorganised and reformed the entire administration of the Company.

To avoid corruptions amongst the civil servants, Cornwallis raised their salaries and debarred the civil servants from taking any form of presents and bribes or engaging in any private trade. Wellesley, the Governor-General, established Fort William College to train the new recruits. However, it was later disapproved by the directors of the company which led to the establishment of the East India College in 1806. It was set up at Haileybury in London and imparted two years of training to the new recruits.

Progress under Lord Macaulay

The Charter Act of 1833 allowed the native Indians to take part in the administration during British India. Under the Chairmanship of Lord Macauley, India’s First Law Commission was set up, which recommended the codification of the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and other provisions. It was after the submission of Lord Macaulay’s Report in 1854, that the concept of a merit-based Civil Service in India was introduced. The Report suggested that the patronage-based system of the company should be changed with a permanent civil service which will be on a merit-based system with entry through competitive examinations. ]

With this, the Civil Service Commission was set up in London in 1854 and the examinations started from 1855. 

Recommendations of Lord Macauley also led to the enactment of the Indian Civil Services Act 1861 which let Indians compete with the Britishers in a merit-based recruitment system. Initially, the examinations were only conducted in London in the month of August and the age limit was restricted between 18-23 years with a total of three attempts per candidate. Even though the syllabus of the exams were made in favour of the British residents, in 1894, Sri Satyendra Nath Tagore, brother of Sri Rabindranath Tagore became the first Indian to succeed the exam. 

Changes after 1912

The next major development in the civil service system in India was the appointment of Royal Commission on the Superior Civil Services in India. Also known as the Lee Commission, it was appointed by the British Government in 1923 to consider the composition of the superior Indian Public Services of the Government if India and had equal numbers of Indians and Britishers. The Islington Commission in its 1917 report recommended that 25% of the higher posts should go to the Indians. 

On the basis of this report, the Lee Commission proposed that 20% of the superior government posts should be filled by direct promotions of Indians from the provincial civil services and the remaining 80% by the entrants which would be consist of 40% Indians and 40% British recruits. After the recommendations of the report of 1924 by the Lee Commission, the Public Service Commission was set up in India in 1926, consisting of four members in addition to the Chairman. The functions of the Public Service Commission were regulated by the Public Service Commission Rules, 1926.

Government of India Act,1935

The recommendations of the Simon Commission were enacted as the Government of India Act,1935, along with other legislative, executive and judicial provisions provided for the Services of the Crown in India. This provided for civil services, Defence Services, Public Service Commissions for the Federation and Province. The chairman and other members of the Public Service Commission were appointed by the Governor-General, in the case of Federal Commission and by Governor of the Province, in the case of Provincial Commission. These two bodies were vested with the duty of conducting examinations for the appointment of services. These bodies remained in power till the Government of India Act,1935 and was later replaced by the Constitution of India in 1950 after a series of ongoing debates in the Constituent Assembly.

Post-Independence Civil Service

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the top nationalist leaders to argue for the continuation of the civil services as he was of the believe that an organized bureaucracy was essential to maintain the unity and integrity of the newly independent India. He also raised the issue of the need for having All India Services such as the IAS, IPS, and IFS to ensure uniformity in the administrative system throughout the country as it was essential for national unity. 

After the Government of India Act,1935, the Federal Public Service Commission became the Union Public Service Commission which is empowered to conduct civil service examinations for the purpose of selection and recommendation of candidates to be appointed as civil servants. The Kothari Committee recommended a three-stage process for selection:

  • A preliminary round consisting of objective questions

  • The main subjective examinations with 9 papers

  • Final state- The Personality Test

The Satish Chandra Committee in 1989 recommended the introduction of an essay paper and an interview as a part of the personality test. The Hota Commission in 2004 suggested the introduction of an aptitude paper in the preliminary round.

About the Author: Antalina Guha | 18 Post(s)

Antalina Guha, is in the  5th year of B.A. LL.B course in Ajeenkya DY Patil University, with a core interest in Intellectual Property Rights and Criminal law.

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