Monday, 24 September 2012

Bureaucracy/Civil Service in Indian History

Extract from ARCII, Report 10, "Refurbishing of Personnel Administration in India",Preface.

Mauryan Period
Kautilya’s Arthasastra stipulates seven basic elements of the administrative apparatus. These elements are embodied in the doctrine of the Prakrits. They are: Swamin (the ruler), Amatya (the bureaucracy), Janapada (territory), Durga (the fortified capital), Kosa (the treasury), Danda (the army), and Mitra (the ally). According to Arthasastra, the higher bureaucracy consisted of the mantrins and the amatyas. While the mantrins were the highest advisors to the King, the amatyas were the civil servants. There were three kinds of amatyas: the highest, the intermediate and the lowest, based on the qualifications possessed by the
civil servants. The key civil servant was the samahartr, who prepared the annual budget, kept accounts and fixed the revenue to be collected. The other key civil servant was the samnidhatr who kept records of the body of taxes realised and was in charge of the stores.

Medieval Period
A new stage in the evolution of the administrative order came at the time of Delhi Sultanate. The Sultanate was initially a classical conquest state and it was necessary for the rulers to establish and consolidate their authority and control over the newly conquered territories. This was done by assigning land on a temporary basis to the followers, who became the civil servants, while, at the same time, by transferring the holders of these assignments as frequently as possible to establish control over them. Such a system – the system of simultaneously appropriating a sizeable part of the social surplus and distributing it to the members of the ruling elite – so successfully introduced by the Delhi Sultanate – was adopted by contemporary states outside the Sultanate such as in Orissa and Vijayanagara.

This system was responsible for bringing about a new conception of civil service which, through radically different from the Mauryan practice defined, in general, the structure and role of public bureaucracies in later years. The Mughal bureaucracy, for example, was based on the mansabdari system. Every mansabdar was invested with a mansab (a rank or a command) which determined his position in the Mughal bureaucracy. The mansabdari system was essentially a pool of civil servants available for civil or military deployment. The
mansabdari system, as it finally evolved, became a combination of the higher civil service, the peerage and the army, all rolled into an omnibus civil service organisation.

Colonial Period
The civil service system in India during the British times was based essentially on the Mughal system, albeit with certain refinements. But the big changes came with the implementation of Macaulay’s Report. The Macaulay Report recommended that only the best and brightest would do for the Indian Civil Service.

The ICS was the instrument of the imperial power, and the leaders of the Indian National Congress had made it clear during their struggle for independence that they wanted to abolish the ICS and all it stood for. Jawaharlal Nehru was ‘quite sure’ in 1934 that ‘no new order can be built in India so long as the spirit of the
Indian Civil Service pervades our administration and our public services’, it being therefore ‘essential that the ICS and similar services must disappear completely’.

Independent India
Yet in the years afterwards the ICS tradition not only survived, it prospered. In the spring of 1964, Nehru was asked at a private meeting by some friends what he considered to be his greatest failure as India’s first Prime Minister. He reportedly replied, ‘I could not change the administration, it is still a colonial administration’. Nehru then went on to elaborate his belief that the continuation of that colonial administration ‘was one of the main causes of India’s inability to solve the problem of poverty’.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was even more critical. In March 1966, she said, “what India needed today,
was a ‘revolution in the administrative system’ without which no enduring change could be brought about in any field”.

It is ironical that there has been no sincere attempt to restructure the civil service although more than six hundred committees and commissions have looked into different aspects of public administration in the country. Rather, the Indian reform effort has been unfailingly conservative, with limited impact. Civil 
service reform in India has neither enhanced the efficiency nor the accountability of the civil service in any meaningful manner. As S.R.Maheshwari commented, India’s efforts at reform have amounted to ‘correction slips to the inherited administrative system’. Maheshwari was being charitable. The Indian civil service reform efforts were not even correction slips – they were more in the nature of endorsement slips.

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