The officers of the IAS play a major role in managing the bureaucracy of both the Union Government (Central Government) and the state governments, with its officers holding strategic posts across the country. It is one of the three All India Services (along with the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service)
The Civil Service
History: The Indian Civil Service (Pre Independence)
In 1854, the British rulers introduced the principle of open competitive examination for entry into the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Although Indians had a right to sit for it, the only examination centre was in London and the system operated as a bar to those who could not afford to travel so far. The Indianisation of the ICS started only in 1922, when the entrance examination was held simultaneously in Allahabad, under pressure from the Indian National Congress. However, the ICS continued to be dominated by the British, and it was often denigrated as ‘neither Indian, nor Civil, nor Service’.
After Independence the loyalty of ICS officers was suspect. Public opinion was generally hostile to the ICS in view of its identification with foreign rule and its obstructing role during the freedom struggle. But Sardar Patel, the leader of the conservatives in Congress, did ultimately succeed in forcing his proposals down the throat of an unwilling Constituent Assembly. He advocated the importance of administrative continuity for the stability of the country. Finally, the institution was maintained under a new name, the Indian Administrative Service.
Civil Services of India (Post Independence) – The Indian Administrative Service
From enforcement of law and order and collection of revenue, the post-independence civil service has grown as an important tool for implementing national and state policies of welfare and planned economic development. These new tasks and objectives led to an increase in the size of the bureaucracy. There was an urgent need to organise new recruitments after the depletion caused by the resignation of British civil servants and the emigration to Pakistan of many Muslim officers.
Since Independence, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), in charge of the centrally-organised recruitment, conducts every year a combined civil service competitive examination on a nationwide basis. The minimum qualification demanded of eligible candidates is a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline from any recognised university. Half of the seats are reserved for the depressed classes. The reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are equal to their proportion in the total population, respectively 15 and 7.5%. The Other Backward Classes (OBC), who are more than half the Indian population, have benefited since 1993 from 27% of reserved seats, as the quota totals should not exceed 50%, according to a Supreme Court order aiming at preserving the merit principle. Affirmative action for SCs and STs is a constitutional provision and is relatively well accepted by the rest of the population, since it has never threatened to revolutionise the social order. In contrast, the extension of civil service quotas for OBCs at the beginning of the 1990s created violent reactions among the upper castes. They protested against the loss of their hegemonic position in the higher administration, which they regarded as theirmonopoly, and against the challenging of a socio-political order they had always dominated. Their anger lessenedas the opening up of the Indian economy was offering them new avenues for employment in the private sector.[ I personally believe that reservations should be rationalised and should be extended to truly deserving ones. Creamy layer concept should be extended to SC/ST as well. It pains to see that children of IAS officers are availing reservations, really shameful. -Suhas]
But in 2006, the project of Manmohan Singh’s government to extend the reservations for OBCs to the higher educational institutes (the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, the medical colleges), and to the private sector, gave a new impetus to the anti-reservation movement. Upper caste students argue that the quota system is contrary to the merit principle and jeopardises performance.
In the administration, the argument of meritocracy versus reservations is very controversial, since the objective is to make the bureaucracy both efficient and representative. In fact, the candidates recruited through reservations are no less meritorious, since they are also selected through an extensive and rigorous examination process. The civil service competitive examination takes place in three stages during one whole year. The preliminary test was introduced to weed out non-serious contenders among the 100,000 candidates who sit for it every year on average. Only 10% are selected for the main examination, which consists of written papers, some compulsory, like English, one Indian language, and one essay, and some optional, which the candidates can choose from a long list of subjects taught in the universities. After this second stage, 10% of the candidates are again selected, which means that approximately one thousand people are called for the final stage, the oral interview. It is a personality test conducted byan expert panel which judges the candidates’ motivation, presence of mind, and leadership qualities, apart from their intellectual capabilities and aptitude for the work involved.In this final round of elimination, half of the candidates are declared successful. Ultimately, less than 0.5% of the candidates are selected and only the higher ranking can opt for the Indian Administrative Service, leaving the less prestigious services to the others.
During the interview, the only stage of the competition when the candidates lose their anonymity, some people complain of discrimination, not directly because of their social background, but because of their choice to speak in their mother tongue instead of English. Yet, this choice has been authorised since the 1970s for the 18 regional languages officially recognised in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. The objective was to broaden the social and geographic basis of the recruitment, by enabling people without access to English education to compete. The preference of the examiners for English-speaking candidates, according to many recruits, might be motivated by purely academic and professional reasons, but some people interpret it as a bias in favour of the urban middle-class candidates, who are already overrepresented in the IAS.
Independence of the Civil Service
The Constituent Assembly of India intended that the bureaucracy should be able to speak out freely, without fear of persecution or financial insecurity as an essential element in unifying the nation. The IAS officers are recruited by the Union government on the recommendation of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and posted under various State governments. While the respective State Governments have control over them they can not censure or take disciplinary action against IAS and other All India Services officers without consulting the Union Government and the UPSC. This independence has been sometimes severely criticised by many quarters of civil society.
Entry and Examination
The Civil Services Examination is used for recruitment for many Indian administrative bodies. It has three stages – a preliminary exam, a main exam, and an interview – and is known for being extremely challenging. Entry into the IAS is considered very difficult; most applicants rank the Indian Administrative Service as their top choices because of the high prestige, salary, and benefits that come with such positions. For example, in the 2005 batch, of the 425 selected candidates, 398 indicated IAS as their first preference, 18 chose IFS and just nine chose IPS. But when it came to second preference, 200 candidates had marked IPS as their choice, while only 155 had marked IFS as their second choice.
Repeated attempts are allowed up to four times for General Merit candidates, seven times for OBC candidates. There is no bar on the number of attempts for SC/ST candidates. The upper age limit to attempt the examination is 35 for SC/ST,33 for OBC and 30 years for the rest. The minimum age is 21 years.
About 900 candidates are finally selected each year out of the nearly 400,000, but only a rank ie top 50-100 guarantees an IAS or IFS selection—an acceptance rate of 0.01 percent, which makes it the most competitive exam in the world.
Allocation and Placement
After being selected for the IAS, candidates are allocated to “cadres.” There is one cadre in each Indian state, except for three joint cadres: Assam–Meghalaya, Manipur–Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh–Goa–Mizoram–Union Territories (AGMUT).
The “insider-outsider ratio” (ratio of officers who are posted in their home states) is maintained as 1:2. as ‘insiders’. The rest are posted as ‘outsiders’ according to the ‘roster’ in states other than their home states. Till 2008 there was no choice for any state cadre and the candidates, if not placed in the insider vacancy of their home states, were allotted to different states in alphabetic order of the roster, beginning with the letters A,H,M,T for that particular year. For example if in a particular year the roster begins from ‘A’, which means the first candidate in the roster will go to the Andhra Pradesh state cadre of IAS, the next one to Bihar, and subsequently to Chattisgarh, Gujarat and so on in alphabetical order. The next year the roster starts from ‘H’, for either Haryana or Himachal Pradesh.( if it has started from Haryana in the previous occasion when it all started from ‘H’, then this time it would start from Himachal Pradesh). This highly intricate system has on one hand ensured that officers from different states are placed all over India, it has also resulted in wide disparities in the kind of professional exposure for officers, when we compare officers in small and big & also developed and backward state, since the system ensures that the officers are permanently placed to one state cadre. The only way the allotted state cadre can be changed is by marriage to an officer of another state cadre of IAS/IPS/IFS. One can even go to his home state cadre on deputation for a limited period, after which one has to invariably return to the cadre allotted to him or her.
The centralizing effect of these measures was considered extremely important by the system’s framers, but has received increasing criticism over the years. In his keynote address at the 50th anniversary of the Service in Mussoorie, Cabinet Secretary Nirmal Mukarji argued that separate central, state and local bureaucracies should eventually replace the IAS as an aid to efficiency. There are also concerns that without such reform, the IAS will be unable to “move from a command and control strategy to a more interactive, interdependent system".
Progression of IAS officers in State and Center Government
IAS officers time scales:
Junior Time Scale (entry-level)
Senior Time Scale (four years of service) – equivalent to an Under Secretary to Govt.
Junior Administrative Grade (nine years of service) – Deputy Secretaries
Selection Grade (13 years of service) – Directors
Joint Secretary (GOI)
Additional Secretary (GOI)
Secretary (GOI) – highest rank
Cabinet Secretary – only one (the chief of the Indian Civil Service)
View for Change
Transparency International, a global watchdog body, ranked India at a low 73 out of the 102 countries in its Corruption Perception Index, later in the 2008 survey, it ranked 85th in a 128 country list. The World Economic Forum on the other hand, ranked India 44 among 49 countries surveyed.. A 2009 survey of the leading economies of Asia, revealed Indian bureaucracy to be not just least efficient out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Philippines and Indonesia; further it was also found that working with the India’s civil servants was a “slow and painful” process..
By the 1990s, the economic liberalization of the Indian economy and the end of the license raj, gradually opened up the economic skies and the end to the regulatory regime which flourished during previous era, loosened its hold over the resources. Though this brought to surface the practices of kickbacks, both during disinvestment and offering government contracts, and while setting up of industries by foreign businesses were soon employing same corrupt practices used by Indian businesses for decades .
Over the years, several reasons have been cited by various scholars regarding the sustained existence of corrupt practices within the Indian bureaucratic system, also known as babudom colloquially, leading among them is its nexus with political corruption, lack of accountability and low regulatory controls. Others have suggested a rigid bureaucracy with a exclusivist process of decision making in a overly-centralized government as the reason its pervasiveness despite the passing years. In fact surveys have found it to be most resistant to transformation in its ways of functioning, even after repeated efforts by successive governments.. Some experts believe that a fall out of the existing corruption and red tapism can be detrimental to the Indian economy in the long run, as foreign investors in a rapidly global, economies of the world still view entering into India as a challenge and plagued as it remains both with political and bureaucratic corruption as well systematic inefficiency which leads to long turn around period as project delays cause cost escalations in volatile market economies . Also in the recent years, several corrupt economies of Asia have faced setbacks, after the wave of economic upturn faded, this makes the urgency of corrective measures more than evident, they make it an imperative..
The need for reformation
Main article: Civil service reform in developing countries
The argument that the IAS serves to promote the unity and integrity of the Indian nation, transcending cleavages and differences which form the basis for states’ identities, seems much less convincing in the contemporary situation than it might have been at Independence. The contribution of the All-India Services to cementing or safeguarding the Union cannot be reckoned as crucial, compared with the historical, political and cultural factors which make Indians feel that they belong to the same nation, whatever their differences. The efforts to make the higher civil service more representative through reservations are limited to a purely quantitative approach to national integration, and do not transcend the social, religious and ethnic cleavages that divide Indian society. How could an elite administration itself affected by casteism, communalism and regionalism offer the perspective of a collective quest for common goals? Vertical solidarity between bureaucrats and politicians seems to prevail over the horizontal solidarity of a composite body of IAS officers, who align themselves with political parties on a caste basis, or simply for opportunist motives of career advancement.
Some upright IAS officers resist this trend, but they cannot alone change a system which victimises them through harassment and pressures from local politicians, frequent punitive transfers and threats to their families. To put an end to this abuse of power, the current Manmohan Singh government has decided to limit the prerogatives of Chief Ministers with regard to All-India civil servants22. But in a democratic set-up, politicians will continue to be at the helm of affairs. If they do not find political incentives in reforming public service institutions towards achieving good governance, any alternative institution, however well designed in theory, is likely to face similar pressures.
That is why the abolition of the All-India Services23, which have not proved efficient in fulfilling national integration policies, does not constitute a solution in itself. It would lead to the preeminence of the State Civil Services, which are considered to be even more parochial in outlook. Reforming the IAS is neither an easy task. Successive commissions for administrative reforms have submitted reports and recommendations over the years, without bringing any fundamental change to the institution. The IAS officers form a powerful lobby at the national level, and they will certainly resist any proposal that threatens their position, even when the objective is to make them more accountable to the public, especially by removing the constitutional protection given to them. The officers who fail in their mission of public service, the openly corrupt, the partisan, still enjoy the security of tenure guaranteed to them by the Constitution, which makes their dismissal very difficult.
The elitist character of the higher civil service was supposed to ensure the probity of its members and to put them above special interests. But today some Indian commentators admit that ‘we have been expecting too much from the bureaucracy because it was elitist. Elitism is not synonymous with neutralism or with fair play’ (Venkataratnam 2005). The partisanship of high-level civil servants goes against their mission of national integration. If nothing is done to increase the effectiveness of the IAS as a binding force of the country, and if, instead of contributing to national unity, its members deepen even more the existing social cleavages by their partiality, then the whole institution loses its raison d’être.
Post Graduate Student of Anthropology in University of Madras