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Background of Civil Services in India Before 1923

Last Updated : 05 Jul, 2022
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The Lee Commission was established to analyze the structure of India’s Higher Public Service in the year 1923. Lord Lee of Fareham, conducted this commission as the Chairman and submitted its observations in 1924. It was based on the Islington Commission report (1912) and it reviewed

  1. The All-India Services
  2. The Central Services

Background of Civil Services in India Before 1923:

The Civil Service examination for India under the British Government started after 1886. It was called Imperial Civil Service but later they changed it to Indian Civil Service. After independence, the ICS name was also changed to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

In Fact, for the first time in 1886, it was recommended by the Aitchison Commission headed by Sir Charles Umpherston Aitchison that Indians should also get hired in Public Service.

Formally in 1912, The Islington Commission laid the foundation for the inclusion of Indians in the Indian Civil Services, Which was set up after an upsurge of Indian public demand for more share in the Indian Public services. It recommended that:

  • At least 25 percent of the positions in the Civil Services should have Indians, which can be partly filled by direct recruitment and partly through promotion.
  • And the examination for the recruitment of civil service should be held both in India and England.

Then to enhance the Indian participation in the administrative services ‘The Government of India act 1919’ was set up. These reforms are known as Montagu-Chelmsford reforms or Montford reforms.

  • For the first time, concrete steps were taken to incorporate more Indians in the administrative services of their country. Elections were introduced which brought political awareness amongst educated Indians.
  • Though, the Indian nationalists were unsatisfied as their demands remained unfulfilled. The Supreme authority still had major powers over the legislatures. And the franchise was very partial as only those who held office or titles could vote.

Finally, in 1923 the Lee Commission was Established:

  • To address the rising demand for Indianisation of Public Service.  
  • To overcome the shortage of Indian candidates in superior services. 
  • Also, the World war just got over and Britishers didn’t want instability to rise in the country, so they agreed to end the patronage system and promote Merit-based selection.

Interestingly the Lee Commission body had an equal number of Indians and Britishers. It was also called Royal Commission as it was for the Superior Civil Services in India. It was a robust proposal, as its traces can be seen even today in UPSC genesis.

Recommendations of the Lee Commission:

  • The Commission intended to establish a “Public Service Commission” as one of the cardinal features of its proposals.
  • Three main categories were proposed
    – All India Services
    – Central services which dealt with Indian states and foreign affairs 
    – Provincial Services
  • The Existing members of ‘The All India Services’ were to retain all rights of officers in the All India Services, and the provincial governments were to be given appointment powers only on new vacancies.
  • The Central services dealt with Indian states and foreign affairs, as well as the administration of state railways, posts and telegraphs, customs, audit and accounts, and scientific and technological departments.
  • The Commission recommended that the Secretary of State retain the right of appointment and control of All India Services; primarily the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Police Service, the Indian Medical Service, the Indian Forest Service, and the Indian Service of Engineers.
  • However, the power of appointment for Central services was kept with the Government of India.  It restricted the power of the Secretary of State to the political department, Imperial Customs Department, and Ecclesiastical Department from taking any recruitment or appointment. 
  • The Public Service Commission proposed the meritorious recruitment of people for All India, Central, and Provincial services. For efficiency in work, they also maintain discipline, facilities, pension, housing, and pay life.
  • It was planned that for the next 15 years till 1939, direct recruitment to ICS Indian Civil Service will be on the basis of 50:50 parity between Europeans and Indians.
  • Therefore, the Lee Commission proposal for the next 15 years planned 
    40% of future entrants will be British
    40% be Indians who will be directly recruited
    20% will be promoted from the provincial service. 

On the recommendations of this commission, Indian participation in civil services had increased.  At the time of independence in 1947, there were almost 1,000 Indians, many of them were in high positions and had a good public service experience.

Recommendations Approved:

The British government accepted almost all the Lee Commission’s recommendations. Eventually, the ‘All India Services’ that were left with the British (except in the provinces of Burma and Bombay) were only the Indian Civil Service, Indian Police, Indian Service of Engineers (Irrigation Branch), Indian Medical Service (Civil Branch), and Indian Forest Service.
Finally, The Public Service Commission of India was established in 1926, to supervise the examination for civil service recruitment in 1927 on behalf of the Civil Service Commission of England.


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