Civil Services of India – composition, hierarchy, norms, history, and reforms.

Civil Services are the backbone of the administrative machinery of India. They implement the decisions of the political executive elected through the parliamentary polity.


The foundation of civil service in India was laid by Warren Hastings, the first de-facto Governor- General of India from 1773 to 1785. His successor, Lord Cornwallis (1786-1793), reformed, modernised and rationalised the civil service. For this reason, Lord Cornwallis is known as the Father of Civil Service in India.

Please note that while Lord Cornwallis is known as the Father of Civil Service in India, it is Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who is known as the Father of All India Services. It was Sardar Patel’s vision that the All India Services should strengthen cohesion and national unity. In his address to the Probationers of Administrative Services Officers on 21st April 1947, he referred to civil servants as “steel frame of India”. To commemorate his address, every year the Government of India celebrates the Civil Services Day. As parts of the celebration, Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration are presented to Districts/Implementing units for ‘implementation of priority programme’ and ‘innovation’ categories.

Open competition and merit based recruitment: The Charter Act 1833 attempted to introduce open competition as the basis of recruitment into the civil service, but this provision of the act was negated due to stiff opposition from the Court of Directors of the East India Company, who wanted to continue with the patronage system of appointments. 20 years later, the Charter Act 1853 abolished the patronage system and introduced open competition for recruitment into the civil services.

Before 1919, the civil service was known as Imperial Services. The Government of India Act 1919 split the Imperial Services into All India Services and Central Services. The ministry responsible for overseeing the affairs related to the civil services is – Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.


The civil services are composed of:

  • All India Services – Common to the union and the states: The personnel serve at the pleasure of the President of India, but are employed at positions under both State governments and the Central Government. They consist of three services
    • Indian Administrative Service (IAS)
    • Indian Forest Service (IFoS)
    • Indian Police Service (IPS)
  • Central Civil Services – Personnel appointed by the central government and function directly under the control of the central government. It consists of
    • Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
    • Indian Revenue Service (IRS)
    • Indian Economic Service
    • and more services..
  • State Services – Personnel appointed and directly controlled by the respective State government.

Constitutional provisions

  • Article 311 – Dismissal, removal or reduction in rank of persons employed in civil capacities under the Union or a State: Members of the All India Service and the Central Civil Service serve at the pleasure of the President, i.e. they can be removed only by the President of India. Article 311 protects them from politically motivated or vindictive action.
  • Article 312 – All India Services
    • Article 312 empowers the Parliament to create new all India services common to the Union and the States, if the Rajya Sabha passes such a resolution by a special majority (2/3rd of the present and voting).
    • The IAS, IPS, IFoS are deemed to be created by the Parliament under the provisions of this article.


Appointments in the Government of India are made by the President on the recommendation of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet – for posts of the rank of Joint Secretary and above, or on the recommendation of the Civil Services Board – for posts below the rank of Joint Secretary.

Appointments in the State governments are made by the Governor on recommendation of the respective State’s Appointments Committee (consisting of the Chief Minister), or the State Civil Services Board.

Hierarchy in the civil services

The Cabinet Secretary is the highest ranking civil servant. He is also the ex-officio chairman of the Civil Services Board which determines the appointments below the rank of Joint Secretary in the union government. He is the chief of Indian Administrative Service, and is head of all civil services under the rules of business of the Government of India.

At the State level, the Chief Secretary is the administrative head of the State government and is the ex-officio chairman of respective State Civil Service Board.

In Union Territories other than Delhi and Puducherry, there is no Chief Secretary, but the Adviser to the Administrator – who is appointed by the Union Government. In Delhi and Puducherry, the Chief Secretary is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in consultation with the Chief Minister.

Issues related to the Civil Services:

  • Corruption: A 2012 paper by the Ministry of Personnel stated that “corruption is prevalent at all levels in civil services and it is institutionalised”.
  • Administrative inefficiencies.
  • Political meddling.
  • Lack of Expertise: Even though the civil servants come from a wide variety of backgrounds and maneuver political pressures with great skill, they are mostly generalists. Their expertise is in generalism. The government is increasingly looking for talent from outside the civil services to fill posts which require high specialisation- such as in finance and industry. For this, the government is testing new methods of recruitment such as Lateral Entry and short term contractual employment.

Civil Service Reforms

  • In 2012, All India Services rules were amended to allow early retirement of incompetent, inefficient and unproductive All India Service officers is they have completed 15 years of service.
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court ordered both the central government and the State governments to ensure fixed tenures to civil servants. The court also asked senior bureaucrats to write down the oral instructions from politicians so that a record would be kept of all the decisions. This was in similar lines to Supreme Court’s 2006 police reforms guidelines.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s