The Indian Civil Service (ICS), officially known as the Imperial Civil Service, was the elite higher civil service
of the British Empire
in British India during British rule in the period between 1858 and 1947
Its members ruled over more than 200 million people
in the British Raj
. They were ultimately responsible for overseeing all government activity in the 250 districts that comprised British India. They were appointed under Section XXXII(32) of the Government of India Act 1858
enacted by the British Parliament
. The ICS was headed by the Secretary of State for India
, a member of the British cabinet. At first almost all the top thousand members of the ICS, known as "Civilians", were British, and had been educated in the "best" British schools. By 1905, five per cent were from Bengal. In 1947 there were 322 Indians and 688 British members; most of the latter left at the time of partition
Until the 1930s the Indians
in the service were very few and not a single Indian was allowed to occupy a high-ranked post. British historian Martin Wainwright notes that by the mid-1880s, "the basis of racial discrimination
in the sub-continent
At the time of the creation of India
in 1947, the outgoing Government of India's ICS was divided between India
. Although these are now organised differently, the contemporary Civil Services of India
, the Central Superior Services of Pakistan
, Bangladesh Civil Service
and Myanmar Civil Service are all descended from the old Indian Civil Service. Historians often rate the ICS, together with the railway system, the legal system, and the Indian Army
, as among the most important legacies of British rule in India.
Origins and history
From 1858, after the demise of the East India Company
's rule in India, the British civil service
took on its administrative responsibilities. The change in governance came about due to the Indian Rebellion of 1857
, which came close to toppling British rule in the country.
Entry and setting
Up to 1853, the Directors of the East India Company made appointments of covenanted civil servants by nominations. This nomination system was abolished by the British Parliament
in 1853 and it was decided that the induction would be through competitive examinations of all British subjects
, without distinction of race.
The examination for admission to the service was first held only in London
in the month of August of each year. All candidate also had to pass a compulsory horse-riding test.
The competitive examination for entry to the civil service was combined for the Diplomatic, the Home
, the Indian, and the Colonial Service
s. Candidates had to be aged between 18 and 23 for appearing in the exam. The total marks possible in the examination were 1,900 and one could get up to three chances for entry. Successful candidates underwent one or two years probation in the United Kingdom
, according to whether they had taken the London or the Indian examination. This period
was spent at the University of Oxford
), the University of Cambridge
, colleges in the University of London
(including School of Oriental Studies
) or Trinity College Dublin
where a candidate studied the law and institutions of India, including criminal law
and the law of evidence
, which together gave knowledge of the revenue system, as well as reading Indian history and learning the language of the province to which they had been assigned.
The Early Nationalists, also known as the Moderates, worked for several implementation of various social reforms such as the appointment of a Public Service Commission and a resolution of the House of Commons
(1893) allowing for simultaneous examination for the Indian Civil Service in London and India.
By 1920, there were five methods of entry into the higher civil service: firstly, the open competitive examinations in London; secondly, separate competitive examinations in India; thirdly, nomination in India to satisfy provincial and communal representation; fourthly, promotion from the Provincial Civil Service and lastly, appointments from the bar (one-fourth of the posts in the ICS were to be filled from the bar).
Uniform and dressing
had suggested that the civil servants in India should have an official dress uniform
, as did their counterparts in the Colonial Service
. However, the Council of India
decided that prescribing a dress uniform would be an undue expense for their officials.
Although no uniform was prescribed for the Indian Civil Service until the early twentieth century. The only civilians allowed a dress uniform by regulations were those who had distinct duties of a political kind to perform, and who are thereby brought into frequent and direct personal intercourse with native princes.
This uniform included a blue coat with gold embroidery, a black velvet lining, collar and cuffs, blue cloth trousers with gold and lace two inches wide, a beaver cocked hat
with black silk cockade
and ostrich feather
s, and a sword.
Nature and role
The civil services were divided into two categories – covenanted and uncovenanted. The covenanted civil service consisted of British civil servants occupying the higher posts in the government. The uncovenanted civil service was introduced to facilitate the entry of Indians at the lower rung of the administration.
Salary and ranks
After the Indian Rebellion of 1857
, the pay scales were drawn up.
Assistant Commissioners started out in their early twenties on around £300 a year.
The governorship of a British province was the highest post an ICS officer could aspire for.
The Governors at the top of the pyramid got £6,000 and allowances.
All ICS officers retired on the same pension £1,000.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the imbalance in salaries and emoluments was so great that 8,000 British officers earned £13,930,554, while 130,000 Indians in government service were collectively paid a total of £3,284,163.
They served a minimum of twenty five and a maximum of thirty five years service.
ICS officers served as political officers in the Indian Political Department
and also were given fifty percent judgeship in the state high court and rest were generally elevated from the high court bar.
The tenure of ICS officers serving as judges of the high court and Supreme Court was determined by the retirement age fixed for judges.
* Central Government
** Secretary to Government of India
** Joint Secretary to Government of India
** Deputy Secretary
** Additional Deputy Secretary
** Under Secretary
** Assistant Secretary to Government of India
** Judge of State High Court
** District Judge
* State Government
** Chief Secretary (British Empire)
** Secretary to State Government
** Divisional Commissioner
** Deputy Commissioner / District Collector
Changes after 1912
With the passing of the Government of India Act 1909
, the Imperial Services headed by the Secretary of State for India
, were split into two – All India Services
and Central Services
Prior to the First World War, 95% of ICS officers were Europeans; after the war, the British government faced growing difficulties in recruiting British candidates to the service. Fewer and fewer young men in Britain were interested in joining, mainly due to the decreased levels of compensation to be had compared to other careers.
Confronted with numerous vacancies, the government resorted to direct appointments; between 1915 and 1924, 80% of new British ICS candidates entered the service in this way. During the same period, 44% of new appointments to the ICS were filled by Indians.
In 1922, Indian candidates were permitted to sit the ICS examinations in Delhi; in 1924, the Lee Commission, chaired by Arthur Lee, 1st Viscount Lee of Fareham
(which eventually led to the foundation of the Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commission under the Government of India Act 1935
) made several recommendations: ICS officers should receive increased and more comprehensive levels of compensation, future batches of ICS officers should be composed of 40% Europeans and 40% Indians, with the remaining 20% of appointments to be filled by direct promotion of Indians from the Provincial Civil Services (PCS) and the examinations in Delhi and London were to produce an equal number of ICS probationers.
In addition, under-representation of candidates from Indian minority groups (Muslims, Burmese and so on) would be corrected by direct appointments of qualified candidates from those groups, while British candidates would continue to have priority over Indians for ICS appointments.
While initially successful, the expansion of the Indian independence movement from the late 1920s resulted in a hardening of Indian attitudes against European officers, and furthered distrust of Indian ICS appointments amongst Indians. This resulted in a declining recruitment base in terms of quality and quantity.
[David C. Potter, "Manpower Shortage and the End of Colonialism: The Case of Indian Civil Service," ''Modern Asian Studies'', (Jan 1973) 7#1 pp 47–73]
The All India
and class 1 Central Services
were designated as Central Superior Services as early as 1924.
From 1924 to 1934, Administration in India consisted of "ten"
All India Services and five central departments, all under the control of Secretary of State for India, and 3 central departments under joint Provincial and Imperial Control.
After the 1935 Government of India Act
The finances of India under British rule depended largely on land taxes, and these became problematic in the 1930s. Epstein argues that after 1919 it became harder and harder to collect the land revenue. The suppression of civil disobedience by the British after 1934 temporarily increased the power of the revenue agents, but after 1937 they were forced by the new Congress-controlled provincial governments to hand back confiscated land. The outbreak of the Second World War
strengthened them again, but in the face of the Quit India movement
the revenue collectors had to rely on military force, and by 1946–47 direct British control was rapidly disappearing in much of the countryside.
The outbreak of war in 1939 had immediate consequences for recruitment to the ICS. The examinations in London were suspended after that year's batch (12 British and eight Indian examinees) had qualified. In 1940 and 1941, 12 and four British candidates, respectively, were nominated to the ICS; the following year, the final London-nominated ICS candidates, both of whom were Indian, entered the service. Examinations continued to be held in Delhi for Indian candidates until 1943, when the last seven ICS officers (seven examinees, two nominated) joined. By this time, the British government felt it could no longer rely unambiguously on the complete loyalty of its Indian officers. During the period of the Interim Government of India
(1946–1947), a few British candidates were given emergency appointments in the ICS, though ultimately none of them ever served in India.
Partition of India
At the time of the partition of India and departure of the British, in 1947, the Indian Civil Service was divided between the new Dominion
s of India
. The part which went to India was named the Indian Administrative Service
(IAS), while the part that went to Pakistan was named the "Civil Service of Pakistan
" (CSP). In 1947, there were 980 ICS officers. 468 were Europeans, 352 Hindus, 101 Muslims, two depressed classes/Scheduled Castes, five domiciled Europeans and Anglo-Indians, 25 Indian Christians, 13 Parsis, 10 Sikhs and four other communities.
Most European officers left India at Partition, while many Hindus and Muslims went to India and Pakistan respectively. This sudden loss of officer cadre caused major challenges in administering the nascent states.
Despite offers from the new Indian and Pakistani governments, virtually all of the European former ICS officers left following partition, with the majority of those who did not opt for retirement continuing their careers either in the British Home Civil Service or in another British colonial civil service. A few British ex-ICS officers stayed on over the ensuing quarter-century, notably those who had selected the "judicial side" of the ICS. The last British former ICS officer from the "judicial side" still serving in the subcontinent, Justice Donald Falshaw (ICS 1928), retired as Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court (now the Punjab and Haryana High Court
) in May 1966,
receiving a knighthood in the British 1967 New Year Honours
upon his return to Britain. J. P. L. Gwynn
(ICS 1939), the last former ICS officer holding British nationality and the last to serve in an executive capacity under the Indian government, ended his Indian service in 1968 as Second Member of the Board of Revenue, but continued to serve in the British Civil Service
until his final retirement in 1976.
Justice William Broome
(ICS 1932), a district and sessions judge at the time of Independence in 1947, remained in Indian government service as a judge. Having married an Indian, Swarup Kumari Gaur, in 1937, with whom he raised a family, he eventually renounced his British citizenship in 1958 and became an Indian citizen with the personal intervention of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
, himself a former barrister who regarded Broome as a distinguished jurist and as "much as Indian as anybody can be who is not born in India". Upon his retirement on 18 March 1972 from the Allahabad High Court
as its seniormost puisne judge
, Broome was the last former ICS officer of European origin serving in India.
Nirmal Kumar Mukarji
(ICS 1943), a member of the final batch recruited to the ICS and who retired as Cabinet Secretary in April 1980, was the last Indian administrative officer who had originally joined as an ICS.
The last former ICS officer to retire, Aftab Ghulam Nabi Kazi
(also a member of the final ICS batch of 1943), retired as Chairman of the Pakistan Board of Investment
in 1994. The last living British ex-ICS officer, Ian Dixon Scott
(ICS 1932), died in 2002. V. K. Rao
(ICS 1937), the last living ICS officer to have joined the service in a regular pre-war intake, died in 2018. He was a retired Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh
and was the oldest former ICS officer on record at the time of his death. As of 2021, only one ICS officer remains alive- V.M.M. Nair
(ICS 1942), who transferred to the Indian Political Service in 1946 and then to the Indian Foreign Service
Support and criticism
Dewey has commented that "in their heyday they ndian Civil Service officers
were mostly run by Englishmen with a few notable sons of Hindus and even a fewer Muslims were the most powerful officials in the Empire, if not the world. A tiny cadre, a little over a thousand strong, ruled more than 300 million Indians. Each Civilian had an average 300,000 subjects, and each Civilian penetrated every corner of his subjects' lives, because the Indian Civil Service directed all the activities of the Anglo-Indian state."
The ICS had responsibility for maintaining law and order, and often were at loggerheads with the independence activists during the Indian independence movement
. Jawaharlal Nehru
often ridiculed the ICS for its support of British policies. He noted that someone had once defined the Indian Civil Service, "with which we are unfortunately still afflicted in this country, as neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service".
[Jawaharlal Nehru, ''Glimpses of world history: being further letters to his daughter'' (Lindsay Drummond Ltd., 1949), p. 94]
As Prime Minister, Nehru retained the organisation and its top people, albeit with a change of title to the "Indian Administrative Service". It continued its main roles. Nehru appointed long-time ICS officials Chintaman Deshmukh
as his Finance Minister, and K. P. S. Menon
as his Foreign Minister. Sardar Patel
appreciated their role in keeping India united after Partition, and noted in Parliament that without them, the country would have collapsed.
*List of Indian members of the Indian Civil Service
* Blunt, Edward. ''The I.C.S.: the Indian civil service'' (1937)
* Burra, Arudra. "The Indian Civil Service and the nationalist movement: neutrality, politics and continuity," ''Commonwealth & Comparative Politics,'' Nov 2010, 48#4 pp 404–432
* Dewey, Clive. ''Anglo-Indian attitudes: the mind of the Indian Civil Service'' (1993)
* Ewing, Ann. "Administering India: The Indian Civil Service," ''History Today'', June 1982, 32#6 pp 43–48, covers 1858–1947
* Gilmour, David. ''The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj'' (2007) excerpt and text search
* Gould, William. "The Dual State: The Unruly 'Subordinate', Caste, Community and Civil Service Recruitment in North India, 1930–1955," ''Journal of Historical Sociology,'' Mar-June 2007, Vol. 20 Issue 1/2, pp 13–43
* Krishna, Anirudh. "Continuity and change: the Indian administrative service 30 years ago and today," ''Commonwealth & Comparative Politics,'' Nov 2010, 48#4 pp 433–444
* MacMillan, Margaret. ''Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India'' (2007)
* Masani, Zareer. ''Indian Tales of the Raj'' (1990), interviews with retired ICS officers about pre-1947 days
* Potter, David C. ''India's Political Administrators,1919–1983'' (1987) 289pp; the standard scholarly history
* Potter, David C. "The Last of the Indian Civil Service," ''South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies'' (Apr 1979), Vol. 2 Issue 1/2, pp 19–29
* Potter, David C. "Manpower Shortage and the End of Colonialism: The Case of Indian Civil Service," ''Modern Asian Studies'', (Jan 1973) 7#1 pp 47–7in JSTOR
* Sharma, Malti. ''Indianization of the civil services in British India, 1858–1935'' (2001)
* Thakur, R.N. ''The All India services: a study of their origin & growth'' (1969)
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