Civil Services Day: Is India’s steel frame really rusted?

Contrary to popular perception, bureaucracy isn’t all about incompetence and corruption.

After Lord William Cecil was made her secretary, Queen Elizabeth I advised him thus, “This judgement I have of you that you will not be corrupted by any manner of gift, and that you will be faithful to the state and that without respect of my private will you will give me that counsel which you think best.”

Thus was born the concept of an unbiased, disinterested and committed civil servant. Over four hundred years on, it remains the guiding principle of civil services in many countries of the world, including India.

The Indian administrative system was founded by the British East India Company. Although the company’s officers were primarily tasked to look after and further its commercial interests, they did ensure some system of governance and justice to the people under their control.

In the British administrative system, based on the recognition of the importance of revenue and magisterial authority, the civil servant, aided by a finely evolved legal system, strove without temptation of reward to administer a foreign people in the name of God and country, or so he was supposed to. In The Men who ruled India, Philip Mason described a quintessential British civil servant thus: “In the public Character, whatever Calumny and Detraction may say to the Contrary, he is minutely just, inflexibly upright and I believe no Public Service in the whole world can evince more integrity.”

The civil servants spread out, imposing law and order in a land prone to feudal excesses and everyday anarchy. The power of the civil service was enhanced when, in 1798, Governor General Lord Wellesley reconstituted his office and created the post of chief secretary, who was vested with the authority to rearrange different departments of the government as he deemed best for “proper conduct” of business. The first chief secretary, George Hilaro Barlow, did not administer each department, but by virtue of his general authority and acting as he did on behalf of the governor general he was held to be in overall charge of the administration. This system continued until power was transferred from the British East India Company to the British Crown in the wake of the First War of Independence in 1858.

“Be that as it may, the fact is that the permanent civil service provides the steel frame that holds this country together. These men and women go to distant parts of the country and put in place systems for governance, and law and order. They represent the face of the government to the citizens of the country.”  

Since administering India was now the direct responsibility of the British parliament, the administrative machinery put in place by the company was formalised as the Indian Civil Service, which was headed by the Secretary of State for India, a minister in the British cabinet.

The governor general, and later Viceroy, became the direct representative of the Crown in India and was given authority over all civil and military affairs.

In the provinces, the governors were given extensive powers for administration, and under them, the office of the chief secretary came to enjoy a pivotal position. As the author Philip Woodruff observed: “The Chief Secretary was the channel through whom the orders of the government were conveyed to the officers. He was traditionally the source of posting (orders of officers); to most district officers, he was, in fact, the government.”

After Independence in 1947, the Indian government, learning the complexities of governing a vast and diverse nation, modified the hierarchies in the administrative set-up, drafted new rules and procedures, and reengineered processes to ensure it best served the interests of the people. The Indian Civil Service thus became the Indian Administrative Service.

Selected on the principle of competition and merit, the young officers of the Indian Administrative Service became the face of the government and worked to carry out its developmental programmes while ensuring peace and tranquility.

Seventy years on, though, the question is being asked whether this apparatus set in place just after Independence, and based on the colonial systems of administration, is still relevant. The bureaucracy is held as being primarily responsible for many of the ills plaguing this country. Be that as it may, the fact is that the permanent civil service provides the steel frame that holds this country together. These men and women go to distant parts of the country and put in place systems for governance, and law and order. They represent the face of the government to the citizens of the country. As they grow in experience and seniority, they are called upon to help in policy-making and supervision. They provide sage advice to their political masters, are rarely obtrusive and often work in anonymity. It would not be wrong to say that the fabric of governance hangs on their shoulders. Of course, there are some people in the service who sully the image of all civil servants.

Governing a country as vast and diverse as India is maddeningly complex. Both our political leadership and bureaucracy, therefore, must be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of different sections of the society. Everyday governance is a tedious task; it is slow, backbreaking and endless as any assistant engineer or district collector will testify.

It is to the credit of our civil servants that despite their many failings – especially in ensuring delivery of services at the last mile – they keep this country going. This Civil Services Day on April 21, let’s celebrate their spirit and determination.

CK Mathew is former chief secretary of Rajasthan. He heads the Public Policy Research Group at Public Affairs Centre, a think tank based out of Bangalore.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.


To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LG and not by the Scroll editorial team.