Civil Services Reforms

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: In context of Civil Services


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Civil services in India

Mains level: Power and responsibilities of IAS officers, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's vision of Civil servants in Independent India. Quote based question in Ethics paper.


Central Idea

  • In his historic address to the first batch of IAS probationers in 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel envisioned a new era for India and the civil services. He emphasized the importance of embodying a genuine spirit of service and adapting to the democratic governance of independent India. The ideals set by Patel are enshrined in the All-India Service Conduct Rules, outlining the values that officers must embrace.

What do the quote suggests “with great power comes great responsibility’?

  • The quote “With great power comes great responsibility” suggests that when an individual possesses significant power or authority, they also bear a corresponding and significant responsibility to use that power wisely and for the benefit of others.
  • It implies that power should be accompanied by a sense of duty and a commitment to act in a responsible and accountable manner.
  • For instance, a prime minister has the power to implement policies that can stimulate economic growth and create jobs, but they also have the responsibility to ensure equitable distribution of resources, address income inequality, and protect vulnerable populations.

How does this quote specifically apply to the civil servants?

  • Power to Make Decisions: Civil servants have the power to make decisions that can shape public policies, allocate resources, and affect the lives of individuals and communities. With this power comes the responsibility to make well-informed and ethical choices that prioritize the welfare and needs of the people they serve.
  • Case, for example: An IAS serving as Sub-Divisional Magistrate overseeing the process of land acquisition for an upcoming expressway interacted with a farmer who shared demands related to the land acquisition. As the land acquisition collector, he realized that their authority and power were necessary to protect the rights and interests of the affected individuals. This showcases how civil servants have the power to make decisions that directly impact the lives and well-being of citizens
  • Stewardship of Public Resources: Civil servants are entrusted with managing public resources, including financial, natural, and human resources. They have a responsibility to ensure the transparent and accountable use of these resources for the benefit of the public, avoiding any misuse or corruption.
  • Case for example: District administration’s involvement in managing oxygen supplies and hospital beds during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Civil servants were responsible for judiciously utilizing scarce resources to save lives. This demonstrates their role as stewards of public resources, ensuring they are allocated effectively and efficiently to address critical needs.
  • Service to the Common Good: Civil servants are public servants, and their primary responsibility is to serve the common good and promote the welfare of society. They must act impartially, without favouritism or discrimination, and work towards achieving inclusive and equitable development.
  • Upholding Integrity and Ethical Standards: Civil servants should demonstrate high levels of integrity, honesty, and ethical conduct in their work. They must avoid conflicts of interest, act in accordance with the law, and adhere to the codes of conduct and professional ethics that govern their service.
  • Accountability and Transparency: Civil servants are accountable to the public for their actions and decisions. They have a responsibility to provide transparency in their work, communicate effectively with the public, and be responsive to their needs and concerns.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s vision of Civil servants in Independent India

  • Genuine Spirit of Service: Patel emphasized that civil servants should be guided by a genuine spirit of service towards the nation and its people. This reflected his belief in the selfless dedication and commitment that civil servants should embody in their work.
  • Adaptation to Democracy: Patel recognized the shift towards democratic governance in independent India. He urged civil servants to adapt to this new form of governance, where they would view themselves as being one with the common people. This emphasized the importance of aligning their actions and decisions with the needs and aspirations of the citizens they serve.
  • High Ethical Standards: Patel emphasized the need for civil servants to uphold high ethical standards. This included integrity, honesty, and moral uprightness in their personal and professional lives. Patel believed that these ethical values were essential for civil servants to effectively contribute to nation-building.
  • Merit, Fairness, and Impartiality: Patel stressed the promotion of merit-based principles, fairness, and impartiality in the work of civil servants. He believed in providing equal opportunities and treating all citizens fairly, regardless of their backgrounds or affiliations. This principle aimed to ensure that civil servants acted without bias or discrimination, upholding the principles of justice and equity.
  • Accountability and Transparency: Patel emphasized the importance of accountability and transparency in the functioning of civil servants. He believed that civil servants should be accountable for their actions, decisions, and the utilization of public resources. Transparency was seen as a crucial element in building public trust and confidence in the administration.
  • Responsiveness to Weaker Sections of Society: Patel recognized the importance of addressing the needs and concerns of the weaker sections of society. He believed that civil servants should be responsive to the marginalized, disadvantaged, and vulnerable sections of society, ensuring that their voices were heard and their rights protected.

Challenges that hinder its complete realization in today’s context

  • Political Interference: Civil servants often face challenges due to political interference in their work. This can hinder their ability to function impartially and independently, affecting their capacity to uphold the values of merit, fairness, and accountability.
  • Bureaucratic Red Tape: The bureaucratic processes and procedures can sometimes be slow and cumbersome, leading to delays in decision-making and implementation. This can hamper the responsiveness of civil servants and their ability to address the evolving needs of society effectively.
  • Lack of Adequate Resources: Insufficient allocation of resources and inadequate infrastructure can pose significant challenges for civil servants in delivering quality public services. Limited resources may hinder their ability to address the needs of weaker sections of society and promote inclusive development.
  • Complex Societal Challenges: The evolving and complex challenges faced by modern society, such as rapid urbanization, climate change, technological advancements, and social inequalities, require civil servants to adapt and develop innovative solutions. Balancing the traditional roles and responsibilities with emerging challenges can be demanding.
  • Ethical Dilemmas and Corruption: Civil servants often encounter ethical dilemmas and face the challenge of maintaining high ethical standards in the face of various temptations. Instances of corruption can undermine the vision of ethical conduct and accountability, eroding public trust in the civil service.
  • Capacity Building and Skill Development: The evolving needs of governance and administration demand continuous capacity building and skill development for civil servants. Ensuring that civil servants have the necessary competencies and expertise to tackle complex issues is crucial for effectively realizing Patel’s vision.
  • Technological Advancements: The rapid advancement of technology brings both opportunities and challenges for civil servants. Embracing and effectively utilizing technological tools while ensuring data security, privacy, and digital inclusivity pose challenges that need to be addressed.

Way forward

  • Strengthen Institutional Frameworks: Enhance the autonomy and independence of civil service institutions to protect civil servants from undue political interference. Establish mechanisms to ensure merit-based recruitment, promotions, and postings, fostering a culture of professionalism and competence.
  • Enhance Transparency and Accountability: Promote transparency in decision-making processes and ensure accountability for actions and resource utilization. Implement robust mechanisms to detect and prevent corruption, providing protection to whistleblowers. Encourage a culture of integrity and ethical conduct among civil servants.
  • Promote Continuous Learning and Skill Development: Invest in capacity building programs and provide opportunities for civil servants to enhance their skills and adapt to emerging challenges. Foster a culture of learning, innovation, and knowledge-sharing within the civil service.
  • Embrace Technology and Digital Transformation: Harness the power of technology to streamline processes, improve service delivery, and promote digital inclusivity. Implement e-governance initiatives, digital platforms, and data-driven decision-making to enhance efficiency, transparency, and citizen-centric services.
  • Strengthen Citizen Engagement and Participation: Foster meaningful engagement with citizens, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to understand their needs, concerns, and aspirations. Encourage participatory governance, involving citizens in policy formulation, implementation, and monitoring processes.
  • Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Ensure diversity and inclusion in the civil service by encouraging representation from marginalized communities and underrepresented groups. Embrace the perspectives and experiences of diverse civil servants, fostering an inclusive and representative bureaucracy.
  • Encourage Research and Evidence-based Decision Making: Emphasize the importance of research and evidence-based decision-making within the civil service. Promote the use of data and analytics to inform policy formulation, monitor progress, and evaluate outcomes.
  • Strengthen Public Service Values and Ethics: Instill a sense of public service values and ethics through training, mentoring, and professional development programs. Promote a culture of public service, where civil servants internalize the values of integrity, honesty, and a genuine spirit of service


  • The power of an IAS officer extends far beyond the perceived glamour or privilege associated with the position. It entails immense responsibility and a genuine spirit of service. By upholding high ethical standards, political neutrality, and embodying the values enshrined in the All-India Service Conduct Rules, civil servants can contribute meaningfully to nation-building. Their power lies in their ability to advocate for fellow citizens, effect positive change, and carry forward the legacy of those who shaped modern India.

Also read:

Code of Conduct for Civil Servants: A Review


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