History of Indian Civil Service during the British Period

History of Civil Secvice in India

The system of cadre based Civil Services was virtually introduced by the British East India Company when they began to rule India. Both the Hindu rulers of ancient India and the Muslim rulers of the medieval period had their own systems of administration and recruited men to run it. But they had never followed a systematic system and pattern of recruitment and training of their employees. It was the British East India Company who, for the first time in India, introduced the cadre based civil services which eventually became the steel framework of the administrative machinery of British India.

Both under the East India Company and under the administration of the British Queen, the system of the civil services underwent changes and developed gradually through three distinct periods following the gradual changes in the nature, functions and responsibilities of the Company.

The first period ranged between-1740. During this period the primary concern of the East India Company was mainly trade though occasionally and rarely they had to deal with administration. During this period the Company servants were generally visionary youths “who were more hopeful than useful.” A four- graded regular civil service was introduced in this period. The four grades were apprentices, writers, junior factorsand the senior factors respectively. These graded servants required only one qualification—the quality of a good penmanship. Later on they were required to have the knowledge of commercial accounts also. Moreover, a candidate willing to be appointed in any of the above four posts had to submit a petition for the same and obtain a nomination from any one of the directors of the Company.

The Second period was between1741-1833. The Battle of Plassey (1757) had enabled the British East India Company to grip the political power of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and gradually the whole of India. As a consequence trade became less important than administration. The Company had gained enormous power as well as responsibility and had various categories of servants or employees in its services.

To train up the civil servants the Company sets up a college in 1806 where admissions were made only through the preliminary examinations conducted by the India House. Only the candidates nominated by the Directors were eligible for admission in that college and they were also to appear in the examinations of the classics and the arithmetic papers. The college had framed a syllabus that would help the students to learn mainly the subjects and the language helpful for them in their future life and work in India. This system continued till the Charter Act of 1853 replaced the system of nomination by the directors of the Company by a system of competitive examination.

The third phase began in 1833 and continued till the rest period of British rule in India. Now the British had absolute sway over India and hence the main concern of the British East India Company and its servants were to administer their dominions in India. To administer such a dominion a group of regular and well organized civil servants were extremely essential and hence necessary arrangements were made accordingly. They had already organized a cadre based civil service where entry could be made only through the competitive examinations. It was declared that “the object of the competitive examination was to acquire a formal and scholastic pedantry, but to train the mind for the highest purposes of active life.” It was expected that such a competitive examination system would surely produce a group of highly efficient administrators for the British government in India.

The Charter Act of 1873 had allowed the Indians or the natives of the British India to join the covenanted Civil Service. But due to their own economic and social reasons the Indian could not go to England to compete in the examination there. Moreover, the Act of Parliament of 1870 had also provided the Indians of sufficient merit and ability with additional facilities for employment in the Civil Service. In 1886, The Aitchinson Commission had also recommended “to transfer a number of posts to a lower service in each province to provide opportunities to the Indians as junior civilians.” Following this recommendation the then British government of India had transferred 108 posts to the provincial services. These too had encouraged the Indians to demand the holding of the competitive examination in India also.

But the demand was out rightly rejected. While ruling out the question of simultaneous examination in India the Islington Commission rather suggested to increase the reservation of the posts for a minimum of 25% for the Indian as because it was found that, at that time there were only 63 Indian Civil Servants in that covenanted service which was just 5 per cent of the total number. Eventually the number of Indians in the service was increased to 33% with an annual increase of 1.5%. Moreover under the supervision of the Civil Service Commission, a system of competitive examination was also set up in India. The system continued till 1923. In 1923, the Lee Commission recommended that while 40% of the employments in the Civil Service would be made by the Europeans and for the other 40% the Indians would be appointed, the remaining 20% superior posts were to be filled in by promotion only. This system continued till the independence of India. The Indians tightened their grip over this covenanted service especially after 1939, a process which began shortly after 1919.  When India became independent in 1947 with the transfer of power, the nomenclature of Indian Civil Service was also changed into the Indian Administrative Service.

For more than 150 years the main pillar of British imperialism in India was its Civil Service. It greatly helped the British imperialists preserve law and order in the domain especially in the period when the nationalist movement and militancy became the rule of the day. It also created a high prestigious and privileged class in the society. Set in hierarchies it created a separate class possessing strength and efficiency who always remained aloof, exclusive and class conscious.

The special characteristics of the Civil Service during British period were that firstly, it was a close well-knit administrative service, secondly, it was designed to maintain stability and continuity of the British power.

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