Evolution of Civil Services in India – UPSC Notes

Civil Service in India is the backbone of administrative machinery. According to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, “Civil Service is the Steel frame of India”. It is the permanent executive branch of the country responsible for implementing the policies on behalf of the government. Since the political executive in India is temporary and got changed after every 5 years, it’s essential to have an administrative body to execute the formulated government policies.

In India, the Civil Service system had a long history. During ancient times, almost every empire had its centralized bureaucratic structure. Kautilya’s Arthashastra refers to the civil administration along with the organization of the espionage system. The theory of Saptanga in Arthashastra stipulates seven basic elements of administration, which are Swamin (the ruler), Janapada (territory), Amatya (the bureaucracy), Kosa (treasury), Durga (fortified Capital), Danda (the army), and Mitra (the ally).

During the Medieval Period, even the Mughals had created their administrative structure based on the Mansabdari system. The Mansabdari system was a pool of civil servants deployed for civil and military purposes.

History of Civil Services in India during the British Rule

The growth of Civil Services in modern lines was organized during the British Period in India. After the East India Company acquired territories and established itself in India, it soon felt the need for Civil Services in India.

Civil Services in India under the Company’s rule

The British East India Company introduced the Civil Service System in India for the benefit of its commercial affairs. It got transformed into well-structured machinery to control the administrative affairs of the acquired territories in India. In the beginning, the term ‘Civil Service’ was used to distinguish the Company’s servants engaged in commercial affairs from those people employed in the military services. Gradually, the civil servants were vested with other responsibilities and authority.

Warren Hastings’ Role

In 1772, Governor-General Warren Hasting laid out the foundation of civil services during British rule in India. He established the office of the District Magistrate by introducing it in the Judicial Plan of 1772.

Cornwallis’ Role

Governor-General Lord Cornwallis modernized, rationalized, and systematized the civil services. Hence, Lord Cornwallis was known as “the Father of Civil Services in India“.

Lord Cornwallis separated the executive and judiciary services, established Mal Adalats, and abolished public-private trade from civil services. He fixed the salary of a civil servant to Rs 1500 per month. In 1791, he also established the office of Superintendent of Police. He tried to check the corruption through:

  • raising the salary of civil servants,
  • enforcing strict rules against private trade,
  • enforcing promotions through seniority,
  • debarring civil servants from taking presents, bribes, etc.

However, Cornwallis introduced the policy of racial discrimination in civil services. He introduced two divisions in civil services: covenanted and uncovenanted.
Covenanted Civil Services (CCS) includes the higher posts of the government, which were occupied by only Europeans.
Uncovenated Civil Services (UCS) consists of Indians at the lower level of administration.

Wellesley’s Role

In 1800, Governor-General Lord Wellesley established the fort William college in Calcutta to educate and train the newly arrived cadets for civil services. However, the Court of Directors of the Company did not fund the college, and it was shifted to Haileburg in London as East India College in 1806.
Lord Wellesley also established the office of Cheif Secretary of State.

Charter Act of 1833

In 1831, Governor-General William Bentinck constituted the office of Divisional Commissioner. He also abolished the policy of racial discrimination in the civil services laid out by Lord Cornwallis. Charter Act of 1833 laid out that government shall not discriminate against anyone in appointment to civil services of the state, and no Indian to be barred from holding any office under the company. Therefore, the 1833 Charter Act theoretically threw open the civil services to the Indians.

Charter Act of 1853

Until 1853, the Directors of East India Company had the exclusive right to appoint the covenanted civil servants by nomination. But Charter Act of 1853 deprived the directors of the company of their power of appointment based on patronage. Therefore, the Charter Act of 1853 ended the Company’s patronage, enjoining the recruitment to the civil services to be through an open competition henceforth.

Lord Macaulay’s Report

Under the provision of the Charter Act of 1853, the Select Committee of the British Parliament led by Lord Macaulay was formed.

In 1854, Lord Macaulay’s Report introduced the concept of merit-based civil servants. It provided for the first time an open competitive exam for the recruitment of civil servants and enabled Indians to enter into prestigious civil services.

The first competitive exam for recruiting civil servants started in 1855. In the initial years, the test was conducted only in London. The minimum and maximum age criteria for the Candidates were 18 years to 23 years, respectively.

Civil Services under the British Crown rule

Government of India Act 1858

After the Revolt of 1857, the Company rule in India got transferred to British Crown rule through the Government of India Act of 1858. The higher civil services came to be known as Indian Civil Services (ICS), which was headed by the Secretary of State for India. The proclamation of 1858 declared the British intention of recruiting the Indians, freely and impartially, in offices under the civil services.

Indian Civil Service Act 1861

In 1861, the Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 laid out reserve posts under the Government of India for the person who had been resided in India for 7 years or more, which paved the way for India to enter into the higher civil services. Hence, this Act reserved certain offices for the covenant civil servants but the examination was held in England in the English language, based on classical learning of Greek and Latin.

The British government gradually reduced the maximum permissible age limit from 23 (in 1859) to 22 (in 1860) to 21 (in 1866). The Indian Civil Service act of 1870 further carried the Indianization of Civil Service.

In 1864, Satyendranath Tagore became the first Indian to be selected for Indian Civil Services. Till 1871, two more Indians: R. C. Dutt and Bihari Lal Gupta, got selected.

However, Surendranath Banerjee got disqualified from the service on the issue of age basis. In 1876, Surendarnath Banerjee founded the Indian Association in Calcutta, which became the first political Association in India to stand for the Indianization of civil services.

Statutory Civil Service Act of 1878

In 1878, Governor-General Lord Lytton introduced the Statutory Civil Service Act of 1878. This Act reduced the qualifying age of ICS from 21 (in 1866) to 19 (in 1878) to make it difficult for Indians to compete and disqualify them.

The second provision of this Act was to fill 1/6 seats of ICS from the local bodies at the recommendation of the Governor-General. Therefore, Lord Lytton introduced the Statutory Civil Services consisting of one-sixth of covenanted posts to be filled by Indians of high families through nominations by the local governments, subject to the approval of the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India. However, the system failed and was abolished.

Indian National Congress Demand

In 1885, the Indian National Congress was established. After it was set up, it raised the demand for:

  • lowering the age limit for the recruitment to civil services,
  • holding the examination simultaneously in India and Britain.

During the tenure of Lord Dufferin, Indian National Congress also stood for the Indianization of civil services.

Aitchison Commission (1886)

In 1886, Governor-General Lord Dufferin set up the Aitchison Commission led by Sir Charles Umpherston Aitchison to recommend changes in civil services. The commission recommended:

  • To abolish the Statutory Civil Service system.
  • It recommended replacing the two-tier classification of Civil services (Covenanted and Uncovenanted) with a three-tier classification: Imperial, Provincial, and Subordinate Civil Services.
  • The commission rejected the idea of holding the ICS competitive exam simultaneously in England and India.
  • The maximum age for the candidate should be 23 years for entering into civil services.
  • It also recommended the inclusion of Indians in Public services.

House of Commons resolution (1893)

In 1893, the House of Commons in England passed a resolution that allows for holding ICS examinations simultaneous in London and India. However, the resolution was never implemented.

Islington Committee (1912)

In 1912, Governor-General Lord Harding II appointed the Royal Commission on Public services under Islington. The commission submitted its report in 1915. It recommended filling 25% of the higher posts in civil service by Indians. It also suggested the recruitment to the higher posts should be made partly in India and partly in England. However, it did not accept the popular demand of Indian nationalists for holding the ICS exam simultaneously in London and India.

Government of India Act of 1919

Lord Montague’s declaration by Edwin Montague on 20 August 1917, also known as August Declaration, promised to increase the association of Indians in the administration. This declaration became the preamble of the Government of India Act of 1919. The Government of India act 1919 accepted the long pending demand of Indian Nationalists to hold civil services examinations in India.

Based on Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, the Indian Civil service examination started to be held in India in 1922, based on combined merits. Montagu-Chelmsford reforms also suggested appointing Indians to one-third of higher posts.

Lee commission (1923)

In 1923, during the time of Governor-General Lord Reading, the government appointed a Royal Commission on the superior civil services, chaired by Lord Lee of Fareham (the former vice-chancellor of London University). It had an equal number of Britisher and Indian members. The Commission submitted its report in 1924 and recommended:

  • To establish the Public Service Commission (contemplated by the Government of India Act of 1919).
  • It increased the Indianization of Civil Services.
  • After reviewing the Islington Commission’s report and other existing positions, the Lee commission proposed that in the future ICS entrants, 40% should be British & 40% Indians directly recruited, and 20% should be filled by promotion from provincial civil services.
  • The Secretary of State should continue to recruit the ICS, the Indian Forest Services, etc.
  • The recruitments to the transferred fields like education and civil medical service should be made by provincial governments.

Public Service Commission

On 1 October 1926, the first Public Service Commission was established in India. Sir Ross Barker was appointed as the chairman of the first Public Service Commission. It includes four other members. The functions of the commission were regulated by the Public Service Commission (Function) Rules, 1926.

All India Services (Group A services) were designated as the Central Superior Services in 1924. By 1934, All Indian Services include seven services like Indian Police Service, Indian Forest Service.

Government of India Act of 1935

Government of India Act of 1935 resulted in the setting up of the Federal Public Service Commission. The 1935 Act also recommended the establishment of the Provincial Public Service Commission.

The Government of India Act 1935 laid out that civil servants in India shall continue to be appointed by the Secretary of State for India in London. It also increases the salaries to attract young talent to civil services. By 1939, the strength of Indians in civil services increased due to the non-availability of Europeans.

Civil Services in India after Independence

After the Independence of India, the Federal Public Service Commission was renamed as Union Public Service Commission. Also, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) became the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

Among the top leaders, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel strongly stressed the continuation of civil services in India to maintain the unity and integrity of Independent India. To ensure the administrative system, he also stressed the need for having All Indian Services like IAS, IPS, and IFoS.

With the Commencement of the Constitution of India in 1950, Part XIV (fourteen) of the Constitution relates to the Public Services. Article 312 of the Constitution provided the Rajya Sabha to establish the new branch of the All India Services with a special majority of not less than two-thirds members.

Union Public Service Commission is assigned the responsibility to conduct the civil service examination to appoint the civil servants. In 1976, Kothari Committee recommended the three-stage selection process: Prelims, Mains, and Personality test. In 1989, Satish Chandra Committee recommended introducing an Essay paper. In 2004, Hota Commission recommended introducing an aptitude paper in the preliminary examination.


  1. Who introduced civil services in India?

    Warren Hastings laid the foundation of civil services in India. Lord Cornwallis reformed, modernised, and rationalised it; hence, he was known as “the Father of Civil Services in India“.

  2. Who was the 1st IAS officer of India?

    During the British rule in India, Satyendranath Tagore became the first Indian Civil Service officer in 1864.

  3. Who introduced the office of District Magistrate in India?

    Warren Hastings introduced the office of District Magistrate in India in 1772.

  4. Who introduced the office of Superintendent of Police India?

    Lord Cornwallis established the office of superintendent of police in India in 1791.

  5. Who created the office of Chief Secretary in India?

    Lord Wellesley originated the office of Chief Secretary in India in 1799.

  6. Who created the office of Divisional Commissioner in India?

    In 1831, Governor-General William Bentinck created the institution of the divisional commissioner.

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