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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Reforming Indian Bureaucracy- Part I: The current system and its critique

The victory of Narendra Modi in 2014 brought with it countless expectations. Bureaucratic reform was one among these. The first term saw limited action on this front, but since the 2019 victory, the government has taken some determined action for bureaucratic reform. Many of these actions may go a long way in effecting change. Former bureaucrats also have several recommendations to make the bureaucracy more effective. Effective reform needs a thorough overhaul of the system.

The System

The Indian Administrative Service previously called the Indian Civil Service was set up in 1858 by the British colonizers. After independence, Shri Vallabhbhai Patel favoured the continuance of an administrative framework, considering it necessary for governance. The All India Services Act of 1951 made this possible. Laws that protect and monitor the working of civil servants are contained in Articles 308 through 323 of the Constitution.

Government civilian employees can be classified as 1) central-level: those working for the Union government or the centre and 2) state-level: those working for various states.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam is conducted in order to select many of these civil servants to work for the central administration. Though the number of vacancies varies each year, roughly around 1200 candidates are selected annually after a rigorous round of tests and interviews. Like the UPSC, each state also conducts a similar exercise in order to select state-level administrative officers.

Central Government civilian employees

The central government civil servants are divided into three groups, Group A, B, and C (Recently, Group D has been done away with by merging it with Group C). Groups A and B provide for the managerial posts while Groups C and D provide for the executive and clerical posts.

Group A services comprise the All India Services which include the coveted Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS). The exact number of vacancies for the All India Services varies each year, but roughly 1200 candidates are chosen annually. Among these 1200, scores determine hierarchies and the highest scoring 200 candidates are selected for the IAS while the rest are assigned to the IPS and IFoS.

Apart from the All India Services, following services are included in the Group A services [1]:

  • Indian Foreign Service (IFS)
  • Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS)
  • Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS)
  • Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS)
  • Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS)
  • Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES)
  • Indian Information Service (IIS)
  • Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS)
  • Indian Communication Finance Services (ICFS)
  • Indian Postal Service (IPoS)
  • Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS)
  • Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS)
  • Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS)
  • Indian Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Indian Trade Service (ITS)
  • Railway Protection Force (RPF).

The following services are listed in Group B:

  • Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Service
  • Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Services (DANICS)
  • NCT of Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service (DANIPS)
  • Pondicherry Civil Service
  • Pondicherry Police Service

Group A officers are selected via the UPSC exam and Group B and some Group C employees are selected via the Staff Service Selection exams. Currently, the number of civilians employed under the Union government (leaving out teachers from government schools and academic staff from government colleges) is around 37 lakh. Of this, Group A officers constitute just 1% and Group B constitute 55% to 60%. The rest of the employees are Group C employees (around 40%) [2].

The structure of the Indian bureaucracy is intricate, and complicated. The following table presents an overview of the Indian bureaucracy [2] including branches and their functions:

Table: Structure of Indian Administrative Services Civil Service Branches and Functions

Group A Services
Indian Administrative Service (IAS) Six thousand The most important and most widely known service. They are responsible for district and local administration, and State level general and developmental administration. It should be noted that in India, most of the administrative and developmental functions are performed by states, and thus IAS officers work at domains from healthcare to engineering to transport etc. They also work at senior position in policies, regulations and management at Central government organizations/miniseries too.
Indian Police Service (IPS) Five thousand IPS officers are responsible for policing, maintenance of law and order, internal security, public safety, public order and peace, crime, investigation and intelligence, supervision of para-military forces, disaster management and public safety. IPS is another high profile and very popular service, next only to IAS in terms of importance, prestige and visibility.
Indian Forest Service (IFoS) Two thousand eight hundred Environment protection, forest and management of flora and fauna, mainly at state and district governments. IFoS officers also work in good number at central government ministries, especially those concerned with environment, climate, forest, wildlife, energy etc.
Indian Foreign Service (IFS) Seven hundred Diplomatic and foreign relations, in-charge of foreign ministry, embassies, consulates etc., and responsible for protecting and advancing India’s interest in the world
Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS) Nine hundred The service to operate Controller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The service is thus, auditor of the government, both – central as well as states. In addition, IAAS are also accountants to state government (thus being accounting service for state governments)
Accounts Services:

Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS)

Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS)

Indian Post and Telegraph Account and Finance Services (IPTA&FS)

Two thousand eight hundred Accounts, Treasury and financial management of Federal government departments; There is one department specific branch (IPTAFS) and two rather general branch (ICAS and IDAS), one each for civil and defence sectors of the government.
Indian Corporate Law Service (ICLS) Three hundred A new civil service, since 2008, for Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES) Two hundred Managing defence estate and properties
Indian Information Service (IIS) Five hundred Looking after Information and Broadcasting ministry, in-charge of Doordarshan, Air India, government publications and similar organizations
Indian Ordnance Factories Service (IOFS) One and a half thousand Responsible for managing ordnance and armament manufacturing for defence forces
Indian Postal Service (IPoS) Six hundred In charge of India postal organization
Railway Services:

Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS)

Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS)

Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS)

Three thousand There are three ‘civil’ services branches responsible for running the huge Indian railways. These three services of railways are responsible for management of civil functions (as opposed to technical/ engineering) of the railway’s operations; In terms of ‘service’ organization, these are completely separate services, with identified posts, and independent structure, hierarchies and progression.
Indian Revenue Service- IT (IRS-IT) Five thousand IRS-IT is a service with large number of officers. The responsibility consists of collection of direct taxes of central government – which is mainly income tax.
Indian Revenue Service- CE (IRS-CE) Four thousand IRS-CE are also large in terms of numbers, and are responsible for collection of Indirect taxes of central government – customs, and central GST. It should be noted that IRS-CE do not man state tax department (erstwhile VAT or commercial taxes, now GST departments).
Indian Trade Service (ITS) Two hundred National and international trade and commerce – regulation and promotion
Indian Economic Service (IES) Six hundred Economic advisory, economic analysis and policy, present in various federal ministries as economic advisers
Indian Statistical Service (ISS) Eight hundred Data collection, analysis and dissemination. Mainly in central statistical organizations
Group B Services
Central Secretariat Service (CSS) Group B Three thousand five hundred Group B service running all the ministries at central government, mostly below IAS hundred
Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Services (DANICS) Four hundred Group B services akin to IAS for Union territories, including Delhi
NCT of Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service (DANIPS) Four hundred Group B service akin to IPS for Union territories, including Delhi

*The above table doesn’t include Indian Communication Finance Services (ICFS) and Railway Protection Force from the list provided earlier for Group A services but includes Indian Post and Telegraph Account and Finance Services (IPTA&FS),  Indian Economic Service (IES), and Indian Statistical Service (ISS) which are not in the list. It also includes a few Group B services including Central Secretariat Service (CSS) not included in earlier list for Group B.

Critique of the system


  • The Indian bureaucracy is said to be inefficient, often corrupt, and low on performance, overall. In 2012, “Political and Economic Risk Consultancy,” a Hong Kong based group ranked bureaucracies of 12 countries in Asia. The higher the score out of 10, the lower was the ranking.

Bharat incredibly ranked the lowest among the 12 with a score of 9.21. (It must be noted that this study was done during UPA 2.0.) While the top ranked Singapore had a score of 2.25, Hong Kong ranked second with a score of 3.53. Thailand ranked third with a score of 5.25. Similarly, the poorly performing countries other than India included China (score 7.11), Philippines (score 7.57), Indonesia (score 8.37), and Vietnam (score 8.54). )

Other countries covered included Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. For details on the study, please see [3] and [4].

  • It is also said that the pace of improving social indicators in Bharat has been slower than that of even Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam [5] and World Bank studies also show that even Bangladesh fares better than Bharat on several Human Capital Index indicators [6].
  • It is no surprise that the bureaucracy often made serious gaffes. For example, the Planning Commission in 2012 claimed that in 2004 and 2005 (during the first 2 years of UPA rule), around 55% of subsidized grains reached the wrong recipients [7].

Poor Design and clumsy structure

The way the system has grown over the years shows that little thinking has gone into setting up new branches and assigning them domains and functions. The structure is also said to be top heavy with too many senior officers at the top necessitated because promotions are seen as a necessary reward system.

Archaic systems and antiquated rules

Many practises are archaic such as the filing system. The practise of sending each file to multiple officials for their permission/ opinion often prevents quick decision making and action.

Political interference

  • The process of selection is considered to be merit based but plum postings and appointments are definitely determined by the political class. Pliant officers are often rewarded with such postings and promotions and even post-retirement appointments to boards and Committees.
  • While state politicians have no power to fire or sack civil servants working for the central administration, they have the power to transfer officers who they deem as troublesome for whatever reason. Frequent transfers have been a bane of the civil services system and impact the work as well as the individual suffering such frequent transfers. Certain known names of officers who were frequently transferred include Ashok Khemka (Haryana cadre) and Vineet Chaudhary (Himachal cadre) among others.


[1] Types of Civil Services: https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/civil-services-post-one-may-get-into-upsc/

[2] From Generalist and Specialist to Specialized Generalist: A Reform Agenda for the Senior Civil Services of India: Working Paper, January 2019, Praveen Kishore: https://www.adriindia.org/images/paper/1562841183FromGeneralistandSpecialisttoSpecializedGeneralist.pdf

[3] Indian bureaucrats worst in Asia, says PERC study, India Today, January 2012: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/north/story/indian-bureaucrats-rated-worst-in-asia-says-study-89399-2012-01-12

[4] India’s bureaucracy is ‘worst in Asia’, BBC News, January 2012: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-16523672

[5] Book Review: What Ails the IAS and Why it Fails To Deliver, The Wire, September 2019: https://thewire.in/books/book-review-what-ails-the-ias-and-why-it-fails-to-deliver

[6] Bangladesh ranks above India in WB Human Capital Index, Dhaka Tribune, October 2018:  https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2018/10/11/bangladesh-ranks-above-india-in-wb-human-capital-index

[7] The legacy of the IAS, despite the shine of prestige and authority, has paled over the years, The Indian Express, November 2019:  https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/books/what-ails-the-ias-book-naresh-chandra-saxena-review-6133922/

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