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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

Tracing the history of civil services recruitment

Not a single Indian appeared in the first ICS exam held in London in 1855. They either did not possess the required education or did not have enough means to travel to London

RK Kaushik

LAST week, the Union Public Service Commission announced the result of the civil services exam 2017. That reminds one of the recruitment process followed by the British during their rule over India. Though they followed a similar system of recruitment, still it was different in many ways. 

The British recruited officers either through a competitive exam or through nominations. The Indian Civil Services called ICS — a precursor of IAS — was the highest service and called the heaven-born or the steel frame of the Britishers. The next service was the Indian Political Service which in 1930 was merged into the ICS. Another service was the IP (Indian Police) which was opened for Indians in August 1922. There were other services such as Revenue, Audit and Accounts and Forest and even Indian Medical Service and Indian Education Service.

The ICS was started in 1855 and the first batch joined in 1856. In the first exam for the ICS held in London in 1855, not a single Indian, pejoratively called “natives”, was there because Indians either did not possess the required education or did not have enough means to travel to London.

The forms for the ICS and other services exams had two important columns, in addition to name, father’s name, address, caste and religion. These columns were: ‘claims over the state and the immovable property you hold’. The British had this notion that a person without property when given an important assignment might become deviant in his financial dealings. They believed that a person with a lot of property had less chances of digression. 

Unlike present times when online forms are sent to the Secretary, Union Public Service Commission, New Delhi, during the British Raj, a person had to submit his form to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of his district in person. In case the DC didn’t accept the form, there were no remedies available to the candidate, as such matters were not entertained by the British judges.

The Indian Police, Revenue, Audits and Accounts services were initially open to the Army and ICS officers, respectively. However, it was only in August 1922 that Indians were allowed to take the IP exams. 

The Civil Service Exam during the British period was held in London from 1855 to 1921 every year. From 1922 it was held both in London and Allahabad. The exam was held in April and the result would be announced next year in August-September. However, the last competition for the civil services (ICS and IP) was held in January 1943 and candidates joined in October 1944.

The services offered huge salaries, perks and decision-making power. For e.g. in 1940 when gold sold at Rs 14 a gram, the monthly salary of a DC was Rs 1,100, Commissioner Rs 3,000, a High Court Judge Rs 4,000, a HC Chief Justice Rs 5,000 and that of Financial Commissioner Rs 3,500. The Governor’s salary was Rs 8,333+300 Pounds Sterling (Rs 450). The upper age limit for the ICS exam always remained 24 years from 1855 to January 1943 — when the last exam was held. However, the lower age limit was generally fixed at 19. The candidates were allowed two chances only. 

British officers lived in revoltingly exuberant and flamboyantly spacious bungalows and usually kept a dozen or more servants — even when their wives and children were living in Britain. Gradually, their number was pared down. When the “natives” entered the service, they lived modestly.

The IP officers used to get a brief foundation course with the London Police. However, they were trained in their respective state. The first guidance institute to train civil service candidates was opened by SN Das Gupta in Lahore in 1930. The total candidates in the last civil services exam held in January 1943 were 9,802, with many appearing from Burma (now Myanmar), Bangladesh and Pakistan. The candidates from Sri Lanka (called Ceylon) were allowed to appear in the colonial civil service along with candidates from Africa.

The Indian Political Service meant to govern 559 princely states (including 10 which went to Pakistan) was merged into ICS in 1930. The Indian Medical and Education Services were discarded in 1925. The ICS cadre in Punjab had a sanctioned strength of 161 officers. At the time of Independence, there were 980 ICS officers in pre-Partition India. Of these, 468 were Europeans, 352 Hindus, two depressed classes, 101 Muslims, five domiciled Europeans and Anglo-Indians, 25 Indian Christians, 13 Parsis, 10 Sikhs and four other communities. There was no fixed retirement age for ICS officers. They had to serve for 35 years from the date of arrival in India. 

The people who interacted in the British period with Indian or British civil servants always remembered them for their integrity, fairness and diligence in administration, which somehow is on a decline in the present lot.  

— The writer is a Punjab-cadre IAS officer working as Secretary, Government of Punjab


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