Karol Bagh | IAS GS Foundation Course | 29 May, 6 PM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Drishti IAS Blog

Bearing the Torch: Reflections on National Civil Services Day

  • 25 Apr 2024

India celebrated its 17th National Civil Service Day on 21st April to honor the role of civil servants in maintaining the nation's law and order, ensuring good governance and promoting social justice. The date holds special relevance because it marks the day when India's first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, addressed new Administrative Services Officers in 1947 at Metcalf House, Delhi and referred to them as the 'steel frame of India.' The first official function to celebrate the day was organised at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on April 21, 2006.

Each year this event is organised by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) and the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions and serves several crucial purposes. According to DARPG, it aims to motivate Civil Service officers to ‘rededicate themselves to the cause of citizens and renew their commitments to public service and excellence in work’. Additionally, it provides the Central Government with an opportunity to evaluate the performance of various departments operating under the civil services umbrella as well as award the best-performing individuals and groups within the civil services by recognizing their outstanding contributions to public service and governance by the Indian Prime Minister.

History and Origin of Civil Services

  • Mauryan Empire:
    • The evolution of civil services can be traced back to different historical periods in India’s history. In ancient times, Kautilya's Arthasastra outlined key elements of governance, and the roles of rulers (Swamin), bureaucrats (Amatya), territories (Janapada), fortified capitals (Durga), treasuries (Kosa), armies (Danda), and allies (Mitra). The higher bureaucracy according to the Arthashastra, consisted of two main categories: the mantris, who were the highest advisors to the King, and the amatyas, who handled the administrative functions. The vast territory under the Mauryan empire necessitated recruiting civil servants based on their merit to ensure effective administration.
  • Mughal Empire:
    • During the medieval period, the Mughal era witnessed a bureaucratic structure based on the Mansabdari system, in which civil servants were present for various civil and military functions. It was inaugurated by the Mughal ruler Akbar in 1571 and integrated military and civil administration under a structured hierarchy wherein officials were ranked according to their proficiency in military affairs and administrative competence and their ranks highlighted their status and duties within the administration. Later on, we find that the concept of civil service was present in the British colonial era as well.
  • British Empire:
    • The word "Civil Service" dates back to the British colonial period, particularly during the time of the British East India Company, when civilian staff were involved in administrative roles and were called 'Public Servants'. While the groundwork for this administrative framework was laid down by Warren Hastings, and subsequent reforms and organizational structuring were carried out by Charles Cornwallis, due to which he was known as the "Father of Civil Services in India”.
    • The British colonial era brought significant changes through the implementation of Macaulay’s Report of 1835, which aimed to recruit the best officers for the Indian Civil Service to serve the interests of the British Empire. Civil servants for the East India Company were initially nominated by the Company's Directors and the civil servants received training at Haileybury College in London, and were deployed in India post training.
    • In 1854, the concept of a merit-based modern Civil Service in India was introduced following Lord Macaulay’s recommendations in a British Parliamentary report. This led to the replacement of the patronage-based system initially introduced by the East India Company with a permanent Civil Service based on merit and entry through competitive examinations. Following the same, a Civil Service Commission was set up in London in 1854, and competitive examinations started from the year 1855 itself. However, the syllabus of the examinations favored European Classics, the examinations were held only in London and the number of Indians who passed the exams were very less as the British government did not want many Indians to be part of the administrative system. Despite this, Shri Satyendranath Tagore, brother of Rabindra Nath Tagore became the first Indian to pass in 1864, followed by four others within three years.
    • In the next few decades, Indians continued petitioning for the Civil Services exams to be held in India however it was not until the First World War and the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, simultaneous exams in India and England were agreed upon. Thereafter, the Indian Civil Service Examination started being conducted in India from the year 1922, initially in Allahabad and later in Delhi with the establishment of the Federal Public Service Commission.
  • Post- Independent India:
    • Following the implementation of the Constitution of India on January 26, 1950, the Federal Public Service Commission came to be known as the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the Chairman and Members of the Federal Public Service Commission assumed the roles of Chairman and Members of the UPSC as per Clause (1) of Article 378 of the Constitution. Post Independence, the civil services focused on increasing efficiency in administration, economic development and modernization under Nehruvian socialism. It was responsible for implementing Five-Year Plans, regulating trade, and overseeing government policies.
    • It is imperative to say that the Indian civil service obtaining a national character significantly played a positive part in becoming a unifying element for the diverse states within the Union and contributed to the socio-economic progress of the nation and actively participated in developmental initiatives from the 'commanding heights regime' to the 'liberalization and de-regulation era.' Along with formulating and implementing policies, it has also been instrumental in ensuring essential service delivery directly impacting citizens at the grassroots level.
    • Interestingly, as the world accelerated towards fast paced changes, as a result of social activism, technological advancement and decentralization, the aspirations of the public also rose alongside for better administration, effective service delivery and transparency from the government's end. This required the civil services, an integral part of the government, to fulfill the aspirations of the people, however the quality of public services delivered to the Indian citizens has failed to match up with their expectations.

Challenges faced by Indian Civil Services

A general criticism that civil services in India face is that of an inefficient, bloated and corrupt bureaucracy that is sustained by low-income taxpayers. While many officers ensure good governance practices and effective administration, there exists many key issues in the civil services that invites such severe criticism from the general public such as:

  • Status quoist attitude
  • Lack of professionalism and inadequate capacity building
  • Inefficient incentive systems favoring corruption over merit
  • Outdated rules hindering effective performance
  • Inconsistencies in promotions and transparency
  • Absence of whistleblower protection and arbitrary transfers
  • Political interference and compromised ethics
  • Patrimonialism (Monopoly of power + discretion – accountability - transparency)

These challenges highlight the need for significant reforms and improved governance practices within India's civil services.

Civil Services Reforms

While a general status quoist attitude, following the rule-book bureaucracy, and political interference have impacted the civil services to the core, reforms that promote adaptability, meritocracy, and transparency are now the need of the hour. The main factors of civil service reform can pertain to the following:

  • Size and Structure:
    • The expansion of civil service structures has not been accompanied by efforts to eliminate redundancy or shed lower-priority responsibilities, leading to stretched implementation capacity and coordination challenges. Civil servants face increasing complexities in maintaining jurisdictional boundaries, decision-making processes, and coordinating activities across multiple agencies. Consequently, certain vested interest groups hinder reform efforts, making it difficult to abolish redundant entities or dismiss employees with tenure guarantees. Therefore, rightsizing of civil services have become important. The number of ministries can be kept low. To ensure efficiency and accountability, ministries should be consolidated to maintain administrative integrity and streamline operations. This will allow officials to focus on core priorities within a single administrative structure. Administrative reforms should clarify roles and governance to optimize service delivery without redundancy or inefficiency.
  • Recruitment:
    • While the Indian Civil Services exam is highly rigorous, there seems to be a lack of emphasis on technological knowledge, human rights, and managerial skills in the examinations. Additionally, India’s evolving economy demands specialists for specific roles due to technological advancements and high specialization levels. Generalists are no longer suitable for positions requiring specialized skills. Therefore, there exists an opinion that civil servants moving between public and private sectors can enhance the appeal of civil service jobs, turning them into roles suitable for the new economy. While this could increase competition within civil services, it can also improve accountability and can lead to long-term benefits.
  • Capacity Building:
    • While civil services training is extensive, it needs consistent updates to align with current trends related to global advancements and evolving technology, that challenge traditional administrative practices. Therefore, simplifying rules, delegating powers, ensuring accountability, and addressing public grievances consistently and promptly is needed for effective operations.
  • Accountability:
    • To ensure accountability in civil services, a few key measures can be taken up including— enhancing and strengthening reporting mechanisms, fast tracking internal inquiries, linking performance to incentives, revamping employee grievance procedures, acting on audit findings, enforcing Citizens' Charters, upholding the Right to Information Act, and strictly enforcing a code of conduct for civil servants.
  • Mindset:
    • While enforcing better mechanisms is crucial, there is also a need for a shift in the overall mindset of those in civil services. The following table summarizes the existing and desired model for the same.
Aspect Traditional Model Desired Model
Commitment To the Civil Service to public service
Core Values Integrity and neutrality Integrity, Impartiality, and delivery
Precedent Follower Creator
Work Exclusively in policy and ministerial support roles Varies roles between operations, policy, specialist skills, and ministerial support
Aims To lead the development of a major policy area To deliver the outcomes of a major policy area
Experience Widens experience by brief tenures in public sector Widens experience by taking a private sector role
Training Fast stream Career-long development and learning
Orientation Status Quo Change
Attitude Monopolistic Competitive


While implementing reforms is vital, however it comes with certain significant challenges and to overcome those challenges, certain strategies will have to be in place such as combined political will and support, building management capacity for the implementation of reforms, actively engaging and seeking support from civil servants themselves, providing safety nets for those likely to be affected by reforms, establishing effective communication among stakeholders, using technology from grievance redressal, and aligning reforms with the country's institutional context.


  1. https://upsc.gov.in/sites/default/files/History%20of%20the%20Commission%20final%20%281%29_0.pdf
  2. https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-news-editorials/civil-services-reforms
  3. https://darpg.gov.in/relatedlinks/civil-services-day
  4. https://cgg.gov.in/core/uploads//2017/07/CivilServicesReform.pdf
  5. https://darpg.gov.in/sites/default/files/CSD_2023_Proceeding.pdf
SMS Alerts
Share Page