Public Services

From the starting, the British East India Company maintained a patronage bureaucracy, which was recruited through nomination by the members of the Court of Directors of the Company, as outlined by the Indian Act of 1784 and the Charter Act of 1793. The nominators had to sign a declaration that they had not received any money for offering this favour. Yet, corruption and inefficiency gradually crept in, and the educational background as well as abilities of the recruits were found to be extremely uneven.

Now, with the expansion of empire, responsibilities of governance increased which required efficient public servants, trained in Indian languages and laws. Lord Wellesley, who arrived in India in 1798 with a grand imperial vision, wrote in his minute of 1800 that the Indian empire "should not be administered as a temporary and precarious acquisition". What he wanted was adequate training for the European civil servants. At Fort William College in Calcutta, the civil servants from all presidencies took three years of training before getting their civil posting. But the college did not continue for long, as Wellesley soon lost the favour of the Court of Directors, and the latter feared that such a training programme might result in the loyalties of the civil servants shifting from London to Calcutta. So in 1802, Fort William College was closed, in its place, in 1805, the East India College was established at Hertford near London.

By the 1830s, however the administrative responsibilities of the bureaucracy in India had increased immensely, as the District Collector had once again combined in his office the revenue collecting responsibilities, magisterial authority and also some judicial powers. Along with that, functions of the state were also gradually extending to newer areas of activities. This brought in greater impersonalisation and a more elaborate hierarchy in the bureaucratic structure, requiring more able administrators. It was, therefore felt around this time that the existing patronage system could not bring in adequate number of able personnel for such onerous administrative responsibilities. What was needed was competition to attract the best minds from the rising middle classes of England. The Charter act of 1833 introduced the principle of open competition, civil servants for India were henceforth to be recruited through an examination open to all "natural born subject of Her Majesty". Henceforth the Civil Service Commission recruited civil servants through an examination held annually in England.

So we have seen that Indians had little control over the Government of India. They were not permitted to play any part in the making of laws or in determining administrative policies. In addition, they were excluded from the bureaucracy which put these policies into practice. In all the major departments of administration police, public works, medicine, posts and telegraphs, forests, engineering, customs and, later, railways the superior and highly paid posts were likewise reserved for British citizens. This preponderance of Europeans in all strategic posts was not accidental. The rulers of India believed it to be an essential condition for the maintenance of British supremacy in India.

But finally in response to the nationalist demands, the Government of India Act 1919 provided for a separate, not simultaneous, recruitment examination to the ICS to be held in India; and under its provision, the first examination was held in Allahabad in February 1922. As a result, by 1941 the Indians outnumbered the Europeans in this charmed circle of Indian Civil Service. If the period between 1858 and 1919 was that of "bureaucratic despotism", when the will of the civil servants used to run the government, this tendency somewhat diminished after the gradual democratisation of the polity since 1919. But even after 1937, when Indian ministers took office in the provinces, the administration was virtually run by the civil servants, because of their superior knowledge at the ground level and their informal alliances with the local power structure.

However, the gradual Indianisation of the civil service also reduced its value as an apparatus of authoritarian rule for the empire and paved the way for a transfer of power. On the other hand, this Indianisation made it possible for the continuation of the tradition into the period after independence, when the service only changed its nomenclature into the Indian Administrative Service.

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