Civil Services Reforms

The problem with putting the civil services on a pedestal


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Creation of All India Services

Mains level : Paper 2- Civil Service reforms


Recently, two IAS officers were the subject of widespread public derision for misuse of power. A week later, the media and the public feted those who had successfully cracked the UPSC examination in order to become bureaucrats of the future.

About Indian Administrative Service

  • Civil Services refer to the career civil servants who are the permanent executive branch of the Republic of India.
  • The modern Indian Administrative Service was created under Article 312(2) in part XIV of the Constitution of India, and the All-India Services Act, 1951.
  • It is the backbone of the administrative machinery of the country.
  • As India is a parliamentary democracy, the ultimate responsibility for running the administration rests with the people’s elected representatives.
  • The elected executive decides the policy and it is civil servants, who serve at the pleasure of the President of India, implement it.
  • Article 311 of the Constitution protects Civil Servants from politically motivated vindictive action.

What makes civil services favourable in India

  • Most countries in the world have a cadre of professional civil servants but nowhere are new entrants to the system of government celebrated like in India.
  • Colonial legacy: The fact is that, 75 years after independence and 30 years after liberalisation, there is still an overhang of the all-powerful, all-pervasive state.
  • There are good reasons for a favourable view of the civil services.
  • Merit based selection: For one, candidates are selected on merit based on an open examination and interview.
  • Job security: Then there is the job security that comes with gaining entry.
  • Unless a civil servant does an extraordinary wrong, she has a job for life, and steady, time-bound promotions which ensure that everyone retires at the top irrespective of performance.

Issues with public perception

  • However, in the perceived strengths of the civil services lie its weaknesses.
  • Single exam: The single UPSC examination is treated as gospel. 
  • But merit and competence cannot be judged by a single exam.
  • Permanence is a problem: The permanence of the job is a problem too.
  • Punishment for over-reach or misuse of power is a transfer, either from a weightier ministry to a lighter one or from high-profile capitals to geographically remote ones.
  • A system of limited accountability: The result is that all civil servants, never mind their ability or competence, operate in a system of limited accountability with few incentives to perform and plenty of opportunities to use and abuse their powers.

Way forward

  • Placing civil servant at par with other professions: The civil services system needs to be brought down from its pedestal and placed at par with every other profession like elsewhere in the world.
  • This will not happen via political diktat. It requires the weight of public opinion.
  • Broaden the selection criteria: The system must be manned by capable, competent individuals. This cannot be decided on the basis of one exam.
  • Remove the job permanency: The underperforming officers need to be separated which cannot happen when the job is for life.
  • It may sound radical for India’s civil services but that is the way the rest of India and the world function, including the UK from where we inherited the structure.


If we can make these changes in the civil services, India will get the government it needs for the 21st century.

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