Role of Civil Services in Democracy

What will you learn from the notes provided?

Functions of civil services

Evolution of civil services in India

What is the structure of Indian Civil services and its role and fucntions

Issues and problems facing the Indian Civil services

What are the remedies

The way forward- A new Civil Services for a new India


Civil services have been concieved by the early consitution makers as the institutional memory of the state. The vision of the politicians would only remain a dream if not for a professional body of civil servants. These civil servants in their functions have to be guided by certain values and standard of behaviour.The Bureaucracy that functions in aIndia can be considered to be the civil services in india.All polities since the ancient ages have relied upon able administrators to carry out the functions of the government.The method of recruitment of civil servants changes from one system to another.In the indian context , though the civil servants are the servants of the President, the very presence of certain constiutional safeguards make them independent in their functions. This allows them the strength to uphold the consitutional principles rather than to toe the command of the bosses in the government.

The words of the 5th Finance Commission is worthy of recollection here:

“it is this class of administrative entrepreneurs – clean, honest and performance oriented – who should emerge on the Indian scene to make the civil service command the respect of all sections of society”.

How did Civil Services in India evolve:

In the Ancient period- the civil servants were nothing more than the personal servants of the king.

In the medeival period- Civil servants under the mughals were the servants of the state. The character of a state ruled by a proper administrative setup started during the mughals.

IN the british era- civil servants became public servants. Initially they started their institution to protect and preserve the British Trading intrests. But soon they became public servants since the 1919 reforms. The civil services were no longer to just play the role in the police state but rather they were to play a welfare role.The changing nature of the state into a welfare state placed new responsibilties on the civil servants. The civil servants have to accommodate the aspirations of the comman masses for whom democaracty started gaining a shape in india.

Functions performed by civil services in India:

The civil services is in itslef not a monolithic body. It comprises of various officers and clerical staff with rank and service classification. The civil services in india is pyramidically arranged in a hierarchy.This structure arises from the same military method of arranging the troops in a hierarchical fashion.

Top Level-brain of the government- strategic planning, policy making, advisorial role to politicians

Middle Level-face of the government-Policy implementation, supervision over the ground staff and making decisions on a daily basis to factor in the ground realities. Provides leadership to the sub ordinate staff at the ground level

Lower level-Carrying out tasks as given by the middle level officers, reporting about the completion of asssigned duties, cutting edge interaction with the public,the real limbs- arm of the government.

Issues with the present day civil services in India:

  • The most common observation about the civil services india is the loss of the neutral character by the civil servants.By and large this has been the case even though there are a few civil servants who stick to the core values of civil service of anonyumity and neutrality. Irrespective of the political party in power such neutral civil servants uphold the spirit of the law.They do get marginalised in the process.
  • Increasingly, corrupt practices have become prevalent in the higher civil service and public perception of higher civil servants as a class is not a very positive image.
  • The higher civil servants – particularly, officers of the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, and Indian Forest Service working in different States of the country do not have a fixed tenure in any post and hence are not able to achieve the targets fixed for them in their assignments. In the absence of any fixed tenure, these officers of the All India Services are not able to function as effective instruments of public policy and are simply wasted due to frequent transfers from one post to the other.
  • A majority of civil servants are arrogant. They are not perceived as people-friendly and by and large they have lost touch with ground realities. There is a sharp decline in their field visits and inspections of field programmes. Civil servants in the States have almost given up the earlier practice of sustained tours of remote areas and night halts in those areas which are so essential to understand and redress problems of the poor and the weaker sections of the community.
  • There is groupism among higher civil servants and increasingly they have been divided along sectarian lines – an extremely unfortunate development.Caste still is a reality within the civil services. The percentage of OBCs and SC/ST in the top level secretary level posts are in single digits
  • Some civil servants develop an unhealthy nexus with power brokers and do not hesitate to resort to questionable means to get good postings in India or abroad
  • The vigilance organization in States and the Central Bureau of Investigation in Government of India have created such a fear psychosis that civil servants are afraid of taking bold decisions 6 in the public interest i.e. decisions involving expenditure of big amounts of money and important commercial decisions. There is a need to enforce the „Single Directive‟ to protect honest officers who take bold decisions in the public interest even though they might be guilty of technical violations of procedure in taking such decisions.
  • Idleness and lack of vision sets in after a few years in the service. This leads to non performance and the higher level civil servants many an instances end up opposing the visionary initiatives of politicians. After 15 years of service, a rigorous review should be made of performance of higher civil servants to weed out the corrupt and the inefficient.
  • Article 311 of the Constitution is meant to protect honest and efficient civil servants and not to shield the corrupt and the inefficient. Article 311 of the Constitution should be amended to remove corrupt officials from service and give them an opportunity to defend themselves in a post decisional hearing only after their removal from service. If the civil servant is exonerated in the post-decisional hearing, he may be restored his entire service benefits including arrears of pay and allowances.
  •   The Indian Administrative Service should not monopolize all key posts in the Government of India. There are a large number of talented officers in other two All-India Services and the Central Services who deserve to hold key posts in Government of India under the Central Staffing Scheme or other key posts in the States.
  •   Far too many officers of different services are promoted quickly and in the different States of the Indian Union there are a large number of officers of the grade of Commissioners, Principal Secretaries to Government, Additional Director Generals and Director Generals of Police. If too many top level positions in the IAS create problems of cadre management, too many senior posts in the IPS create problems of unity of command.
  •  Officers of different services who are some of the brightest when they enter the service do not feel motivated to excel in performance as they grow in the service. They stop reading books and journals so necessary to increase their domain knowledge. As issues in public administration are becoming increasingly complex and as some of these issues are scientific and technical in character, officers of the higher civil service, particularly officers of the IAS, as leaders of multi-disciplinary teams, must acquire more domain 8 knowledge as they go into senior positions. The Surinder Nath Committee‟s (July, 2003) recommendations in this regard need to be implemented without further delay.
  • (xvii) As the age of entry into a civil service has risen in recent years – at present a general candidate is eligible if he is 21-30 years of age with age concession of three more years for candidates of Other Backward Classes and age concessions of five more years for candidates of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, those who enter late into the civil services often have fixed stereotypes compared to young entrants.This can be counterproductive to the working of the institution where a flexible mindset is required.
  • Most of the civil servants fail to achieve results because they are not given targets of performance or the infrastructural support to achieve them. Most Departments/Ministries have no mission or vision statements. A reality check is essential through which performance of every Department and Ministry should be reviewed and the correctives applied. Without performance targets, the civil service degenerates into a closed priesthood with no accountability.
  • Even though the Fifth Central Pay Commission has recommended a higher compensation package for civil servants, there is a case for giving the higher civil servant a more liberal package of compensation which bears a fair comparison with what is available outside government for similar functionaries. This 9 higher package would ensure that civil servants are free of financial worries and would not succumb to temptations while holding high public office.
  • Lately, pay and allowances of civil servants in the executive branch of administration have lagged behind pay and allowances of members of the subordinate judiciary. To maintain parity in pay and allowances among public servants in the executive, legislative and judiciary, there is a need for enactment of a law such as the Federal Pay Comparability Act of 1970 of USA.
  • Representation of women in the higher civil service is only about 12-13% of the total strength. Suitable incentives should be offered to attract more women into the civil service.
  • Owing to a shortage of posts at the highest level, many competent civil servants are not able to reach the highest levels before they retire. Members of civil services, who retire on superannuation in the grade of Joint Secretary/Additional Secretary to Government of India, may be given the next higher grade of pay personal to them at least a year before they retire on superannuation so that they have the satisfaction of getting higher grade pay if not the higher post carrying such grade pay.

Changes that are needed in the present day civil services in India

Making the Civil Service · responsive and citizen-friendly; · transparent; · accountable; and · ethical in its (a) actions and (b) interface with the people.

Citizens’ Charter:

The central and state governments would formulate citizens’ charters for departments and offices, starting with those which have a large public interface. These citizens’ charters would specify standards of service and time limits that the public can reasonably expect avenues of grievance redressal and a provision for independent scrutiny with the involvement of citizen and consumer groups. These citizens’ charters would be widely publicised; efforts would be made to these charters operational over the next three month.

Redressal of Public Grievances:

All central and state departments would publicise widely, facilities at various levels for the prompt and effective redressal of public grievances from the secretariat downwards to the village. Review of existing systems of redressal of public grievances and institution of measures for streamlining them with a built-in system for independent monitoring, should be in place over the next six months.

Review of Laws, Regulations and Procedures:

The Central and state governments would work together for the simplification of existing laws, regulations and procedures, repeal of obsolete laws, reform of laws operating against the weaker section and steps to reduce the time and cost of the disposal of cases in civil and criminal courts. The entire process of approvals, sanction and issue of permits would be made simpler, transparent and singlewindow-based. A priority agenda will be adopted and implemented over the next one year for this purpose.

People’s Participation, Decentralisation and Devolution of Powers:

There was recognition of the need for greater decentralisation and devolution of administrative powers at all levels. Consistent with the spirit of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution, immediate steps would be initiated by different state government, with the involvement of the Central Government to strengthen people’s participation in government. Steps would be taken to ensure adequate devolution of powers and resources to the elected local bodies in rural and urban areas, in line with the recommendations of the state finance commissions. The Central and state governments would encourage and sustain people’s participation and dedicated voluntary agencies in all the schemes for the delivery of basic services, as resolved earlier in the conference of Chief Ministers in July 1996

Making the civil service e-governance friendly.

It is essential to recognize that e-government is all about discarding old procedures and transforming the process of decisionmaking. Technology is merely a tool and a catalyst for such transformation. eGovernance cannot be achieved simply by drafting a law or issuing an order. It requires changing how officials think and act, how they view their jobs, how they share information between Departments, with trade, commerce and business and with common citizens. At present, most of the procedures and processes followed by the public authorities are outdated and cumbersome. In any event, they are not oriented to the needs and convenience of the citizen. With the help of information technology, the procedures and processes followed by public authorities for dealing with the problems of the citizens should be simplified and suitably modified.

Putting a premium on intellectual growth of civil servants and on upgrading their domain knowledge.

Continuous intellectual enrichment needs to be encouraged at all levels of the civil service. After a period of 10 years, civil servants should be encouraged to go on a sabbatical to acquire additional knowledge and update their skills. They should also be encouraged to move laterally to nongovernment organizations and even the private sector and return to government without losing their seniority.

The initiative taken by the Department of Economic Affairs and the Department of Personnel and Training to provide funds to the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore to develop a two-year course for officers of AIS and Central Services at mid-career level is a worthwhile experiment. This programme seeks to build a group of professional administrators with skills in project management, strategic planning and management in government. Similar training programmes be devised in other training and management institutions so that larger numbers of civil servants are able to participate in these programmes.

Protecting the civil service against wrongful pressure exerted by (a) administrative superiors; (b) political executive; (c) business interests; and (d) other vested interests. 

The absence of a fixed tenure of officials is one of the most important reasons for tardy implementation of government  policies, for lack of accountability of officers, for waste of public money because of inadequate supervision of programmes under implementation and for large-scale corruption.if an officer of the higher civil service is given a fixed tenure of at least three years in his post and given annual performance targets, effectiveness of the administrative machinery will register a quantum jump. This absence of fixed tenure for the civil servants make them vulnerable to arbitrary transfers by the ruling politicians.Hence it is felt necessary that a civil services board is required at the earliest and this board should be given the responsibility of deciding on the transfers of officials above a certain rank.

 Changes in rules governing the disciplinary proceedings against civil servants to decentralize the process as far as practicable, and to make the disposal of such proceedings time-bound

The Central Vigilance Commission has prescribed model time schedules for completion of various stages in the disciplinary cases. It has identified a few important stages in disciplinary proceedings and has fixed time limits for completion of each stage. Every Department should undertake an exercise every year whether disciplinary proceedings initiated by them or by their subordinate and attached offices are proceeding/have been completed as per the time limit fixed by the Central Vigilance Commission. This exercise should be completed before the end of a calendar year and before a Department/Ministry sends its annual statement on pending disciplinary cases to the Cabinet Secretariat for more effective monitoring of such cases.


The new challenges of globalisation, political decentralisation and social • empowerment have an unfailing impact on the role of the civil service. The consensus now is on liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The role of the civil service in the changing scenario will be reduced in certain areas and transformed in other areas. The regulatory mechanism during the period of transition will require a high degree of specialised knowledge in society and this can come only from a very high quality institutional training. To tender sound political advice on terse economic matters, mere generalist background will not help and hig,her services will have to work in tandem with ‘ research bodies outside Government. Globalisation and liberalisation, if it is to lead to higher growth with social justice would require the civil service to play an enhanced role in the delivery of facilitator service and development of human development resources. 274 By the late 1990s, it was increasingly clear in India to many sophisticated observers of Indian administration that the public sector was in need of serious overhaul restructuring. The country has inherited a colonial administration from the British that was lean and relatively corruption-free, but focused narrowly on the tasks of maintaining law and order and gathering revenues. It then expanded rapidly as the state took on a large number of social, economic and developmental functions, ranging from fostering the green revolution to occupying the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy to strengthening environmental regulation. India, as envisaged by the framers of the constitution, was to be a secular, casteless, equal society. Yet, by creating a system of reservations and making special provision for certain minorities as well as states, it created vested interests which could be exploited by politicians. Also endemic is the level of corruption in politics as well as in the officialdom. It was the Indian bureaucracy which had earlier provided a stable backbone to the fledgling democracy. But now, even in the ranks of the bureaucracy of which there is a great abundance; have been penetrated by corrupt practices. Further, despite this massive number of officials from the smallest ‘block’ level to the top most ministry level, decision making remains highly centralised, rendering the services of many of these officials to be essentially clerkish, dressed in a better garb. In other words, there is a marked administrative ineffectiveness and incapacity in addition to corruption, which does not go well for the country. Reform in the institutional structure of the bureaucracy is something that the government should seriously consider in the near future to ensure impartial and effective governance. Structural changes at the policy level will automatically follow from the slimming -~induced by liberalisation and privatisation. But the areas not covered by complex economic activities·, will not only remain but will have to be manned by civil servants familiar with latest developments in computer and information technology intensively trained through well designed programmes at specialised institutions both in the public and private sector, in India and abroad. All these are the unfinished tasks and future challenges. And in every single area the services will have to play a decisive role as the actual implementers of specific programmes or as facilitators, particularly in the key areas of economic reforms, science and technology and preservation of environment. The crying need for the service even as it embarks on its journey towards the 21 st century- is to adopt “moral resurgence” as the goal which translated in administrative language means no more than objectivity, integrity and service as a duty and moral responsibility. Minus the re-impregnated moral elan, the service will falter and fail. This applies to our political masters too who have not only to provide moral leadership but also to create an environment conducive to the discharge of their duties by the civil service; old value system has to be reinstalled. Missionary zeal has to be resurrected and superimposed on the value system relevant to the strife for excellence.