1. Colonial India
In order to understand ‘the puzzle of ICS continuity’,2 a closer look at its evolution under colonial rule is required. The ICS was formally established by the Government of India (p. 1002) Act 1858 (‘1858 Act’), and later underwent significant transformations with the subsequent enactments of the Government of India Act 1919 (‘1919 Act’) and the Government of India Act 1935 (‘1935 Act’). Both the 1919 Act and the 1935 Act laid the foundation for the present constitutional provisions that govern the civil services in India.
Originally, governance under the Raj was centralised in the hands of the Secretary of State, who enjoyed full authority over the services.3 By the 1919 Act, the British introduced dyarchy, a system of governance whereby the executive branch of the government was divided into authoritarian and popularly responsible sections. The 1919 Act ultimately paved the way for the 1935 Act, which introduced a federal form of government, with a certain degree of autonomy granted to the provinces. The enactment of the 1919 and 1935 Acts was to primarily secure self-governance and a greater Indianisation of the services, including structural changes to the recruitment process.4
With the introduction of federalism by the 1935 Act, the question of whether the administrative system (which so far had been integrated from the top to the village level) needed to be bifurcated had to be considered.5 The Maxwell Committee on Organization and Procedure (1937) discussed the issue, and firmly recommended that status quo be retained, for two primary reasons. First, according to the Committee, in the event of a permanent civil service of the Union government being instituted, the officers recruited therein would most likely not directly work in the provinces. It was considered essential that the civil servants at the disposal of the Union government, whose primary duty would be policy formulation, possess the direct experience of working in the provinces, without which the context of the many issues the Union government remained concerned with would not be adequately understood. Secondly, and crucially, a rotating civil service would supply an essential link between the Union government and the provincial governments.6
The most significant change brought about by the 1919 Act was the devolution of administration of certain subjects upon the provinces. For the first time, the provincial governments were provided with an independent sphere of administration in subjects such as education, agriculture, medical, health, local government, etc. Significantly, the transferred subjects to the provinces came directly under the elected representatives of the Indian people.7 With the increasing transfer of power to the provincial governments, the power of recruitment and control of the Secretary of State over the transferred subjects was discontinued. Gradually, the Secretary of State came to retain control of only the ICS, Indian Police Service, and a few other ‘All-India Services’, with the rest of the services being converted into provincial services.
With the enactment of the 1935 Act, this position was formalised. The Act clearly laid down that the power to make appointments vested with the Governor-General in respect Page Id: 1002ReferencesGovernment of India Act (United Kingdom [gb]) 1858 c.106 (21 & 22 Vict)Government of India Act (United Kingdom [gb]) 1919 c.101 (9 & 10 Geo 5)Government of India Act (United Kingdom [gb]) 1935 c.2 (25 & 26 Geo 5)(p. 1003) of the central services, and with the Governors in respect of the provincial services. The provincial legislatures were, however, enabled to pass legislation to regulate the conditions of service of provincial civil servants.8
Both the Acts diluted the autonomy of the ICS and other services, since officials now had to work in close association with, and were accountable to, the elected ministers.9 Bureaucrats were fearful that the elected Congress ministers would exercise this power to gain retribution, since the ICS had played an antagonistic role throughout the national movement.10 It was for this reason that the tenure of civil servants was secured, and the common law doctrine of pleasure was statutorily introduced in India in 1919, by which the appointment of members of the civil services was made at the pleasure of the Crown, vide Section 96B. The same was retained in the 1935 Act, and eventually incorporated in the Constitution.
The 1919 Act provided that no member of the civil services could be dismissed by any authority subordinate to the authority by which he was appointed.11 Since appointments to the civil services were made by the Secretary of State anyway, this provision ensured that the elected representatives could not dismiss the civil servants. These features were retained in the 1935 Act. The 1935 Act also provided unprecedented constitutional protections to civil servants (since the ICS feared that the Indian legislatures would not grant the services adequate protection), as can be seen in section 52(1), whereby the Viceroy further reserved for himself the protection of rights and legitimate interests of civil servants under his ‘special responsibilities’ (which included important powers such as protection of minorities and maintenance of peace and tranquility).12
As mentioned earlier, the 1919 Act delegated the power to regulate conditions of service in respect of the provinces to the Governor or local legislatures. However, it is interesting to note that the power to make ‘Fundamental Rules’, which governed major rules with respect to conditions of service, vested solely with the Secretary of State. Thus, while the ministers had greater control over the government services, the ultimate authority was concentrated in the hands of the British executive. Further, the exact scope of the power delegated to the legislatures was clearly laid out in the Report of the Joint Select Committee of 1934 as being, mainly, the power of granting legal sanction to the status and rights of the services.13
The 1935 Act, by virtue of section 240, further strengthened the protections granted to the civil servants. Civil servants were given the right to appeal any imposition of punishment upon them directly to the Governor or Viceroy, by virtue of this provision, which laid down the procedure to be followed to dismiss or reduce the rank of civil servants, which included a reasonable opportunity of being heard.14 Finally, the 1919 Act established a Federal Public Service Commission to discharge functions relating to the recruitment and control of the public services, free from political interference.15 The 1935 Act further established the Provincial Public Service Commissions in all the provinces.16 Ironically, while Page Id: 1003ReferencesGovernment of India Act (United Kingdom [gb]) 1919 c.101 (9 & 10 Geo 5)Government of India Act (United Kingdom [gb]) 1935 c.2 (25 & 26 Geo 5)(p. 1004) these protections were motivated entirely by political considerations, they simultaneously symbolise the separation of the ‘apolitical’ executive from the ‘political’ legislature.
2. The Constituent Assembly Debates
The Constituent Assembly extensively debated whether or not there was place for the public services—widely seen as a symbol of colonial oppression—in a modern, democratic nation. The Congress had earlier mounted an unrelenting opposition to the services and asserted the need for their dismemberment in the new nation. However, the pressing need for security and stability, especially in light of the violence in Punjab, Hyderabad, and Kashmir, during and after Partition, highlighted not only the need for stability and continuity over drastic administrative overhauls, but also the vital role played by the services in nation building.17 Further, the political neutrality of the services, and their disciplined and unquestioned implementation of the policies formulated by the government, was advocated (primarily by Sardar Patel) as being indispensable to the newly formed nation-state.18 As Patel put it: ‘Learn to stand upon your pledged word, and, also, as a man of experience I tell you, do not quarrel with the instruments with which you want to work.’19
Patel defended the services for their neutrality, or subordination, to the prevailing political will. The services were oppressive under colonial rule because they were pursuing the policies of a colonial government. The same subordination to the prevailing political will would make them invaluable in the new democratic framework. The newly formed social welfare state, which had set for itself an ambitious agenda for development, was rife with communal strife and insurgency. The management of both urgently required a competent, efficient, and diligent task force, which was found in the services already created by the British.20 Therefore, the assembly was guided by a need to create a service under the control of and accountable to the legislature, but also had to ensure that it remained free from political interference.
Patel was of the view that to leave the regulation of the conditions of service to Central and provincial legislatures would be a grave mistake, for it would increase the chance of political interference with the services, thereby compromising on their efficiency.21 Ambedkar, however, was of the opinion that only minimum safeguards were necessary to be granted a constitutional status; and the rules on recruitment and conditions of service could be entrusted to the wisdom of the legislatures. Even the authority of the executive over the services was vested with the legislature, in keeping with democratic values.22(p. 1005)
However, after much intensive debate, the safeguards contained in the 1935 Act were largely retained. A consensus was reached with regard to the establishment of an All-India Service, controlled by the Union government; with special protection (constitutional in character) afforded to these services in order to keep them independent from any kind of political interference. The proposed articles, later numbered Articles 308–314 in the Constitution, laid down that civil servants held office at the pleasure of the President and the Governor (depending on whether they were members of the All-India Services or the State Services), secured the tenure of civil servants, but clarified that they had no right to hold office, and also that civil servants were not the employees of a particular minister.23
The safeguards against arbitrary political dismissals and punitive action contained in the 1935 Act were also retained. This meant that no person could be removed or reduced in rank by an authority below the rank that appointed him. Even this action could be taken only after affording a reasonable opportunity of showing cause, unless it was not practicable to do so, or the removal or reduction in rank was in pursuance of conviction on a criminal charge.24 As an additional safeguard, the assembly provided that in the interest of administrative convenience, until the legislatures make the necessary rules for recruitment and conditions of service, the President and the Governors were empowered to do so.25
The assembly also debated whether new All-India Services should be established by the President, the Parliament as a whole, or the Council of States (since one of the essential roles of such services was to serve as a ‘liaison between the provinces and the central government’). Thus, it was found imperative to acquire the consent of the Council of States.26 Patel pointed out that the representatives of the provinces in the assembly did not have any objection to the retention of All-India Services, simultaneous with the provincial and federal services.27 In this manner, the establishment of All-India Services was secured, despite being incongruous in a federal set-up. The All-India Services would have also included All-India Judicial Services,28 but the Forty-second Amendment clarified this nevertheless. So far, despite the recommendation of the Supreme Court,29 All-India Judicial Services have not been established.
As a result, by the end of the Constitution-drafting process, India had a civil service that was in principle accountable to the legislature, but over which the executive continued to exercise intense control through its rule-making powers. Consequently, there was scant change in the actual structure and functioning of the services, which preserved their colonial orientation and demonstrated a high degree of colonial continuity. While Burra argues that the claim of colonial continuity per se is insufficient to discredit public services,30 Potter31 and several other authors32 express concern with the services on three grounds.(p. 1006)
The first critique is from the vantage point of democratic theory. While earlier imagined to be ‘accountable to themselves’,33 democracy brought the services under the direct control and accountability of elected representatives. According to Potter, the two traditions—of an older colonial administration and of newly elected democratic representatives—sat at odds with each other. The ministers now had a far bigger role to play in policymaking, which the administrators viewed as excessive political intervention in their functioning.34 The protection of their personal and professional interests under these changed circumstances required political manoeuvrability, to which bureaucrats were traditionally unaccustomed. This caused a change in the fibre of the services. Though trained in the ethic of political neutrality, ‘in reality the political and practical considerations are often inseparable’.35 This paved the way for excessive politicisation of the services post-Independence, attaining its peak during the Emergency, and subsisting since then.36 The constitutional safeguards preventing arbitrary dismissals and punishments by the ministers were sidestepped through the loophole of discretionary transfers, thereby seriously hampering efforts to ensure accountability.37
The second criticism focuses on federalism, and pertains specifically to All-India Services. The original vision was to depute servicemen to State cadres, from which the Union government could pick individuals for short durations for the All-India Services, after which they returned to their State cadres.38 Potter,39 and even the First Administrative Reforms Commission,40 called the coexistence of All-India Services with a federal structure a remarkable feat unto itself. Notwithstanding the fact that the Council of States had no objection to the retention of an All-India Services during the Constituent Assembly debates, post-Independence, such an All-India administrative arrangement was bound to face some hostility from the elected leaders in the various States. In effect, the key posts at the State level were occupied by members of the All-India Services, who were recruited by the Centre. This constrains the discretion for the States themselves to appoint their personnel for implementation of policies. Further, in view of the rules of appointment made by the Centre, purportedly ‘in consultation with the States’, for the senior posts in the States, the choice is limited only to members of the All-India Services. Instead of being services that provided a crucial link between the Centre and the States, they have degenerated into entities controlled by the ruling party at the Centre, to constrain governments of opposition parties in the States.41
The third concern with India’s civil service has been its inability to meet the challenges of a welfare state. The colonial functions of administration were law and order, administration of justice, and revenue collection, otherwise pursuing a laissez-faire economic policy, (p. 1007) which furthered the interests of European industrialists.42 Now, India pursues an agenda of all-round development, extending beyond economic activities alone.43 Since the 1950s, a number of specialised welfare-based ministries and departments have been set up.44 The expansion of the agenda into political, social, and economic reforms calls for increased expertise in policy formulation and implementation, which the ‘amateur generalist’ is unable to deliver upon. The reservation of top posts in the government for IAS officials further prevents the entry of technocrats and experts.45 The problem is further exacerbated by the system of transfers and short tenures at posts.46 No other industrialised nation of this size is run by a panel of generalists. Even the UK now permits lateral hires in ministries on a contractual basis. Japanese bureaucrats spend their entire careers in the same ministry, thereby gaining expertise on the job.47 As we shall see, these three concerns often find articulation in constitutional controversies relating to the civil services.