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The Public Service Commission

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In 1858 Queen Victoria assured equality of opportunity to Indians in the matter of public employment. English had already been made India’s official language and arrangements for its teaching initiated. Educated Indians were in search for jobs. Yet no Indian could enter the country’s higher Civil Service till 1884 despite Queen Victoria’s solemn proclamation, which naturally aroused discontentment among Indians. To redress the accumulating grievances, the Government of India set up the Public Service Commission in 1886 under the ‘president ship’ of Sir Charles Aitchison.


The Aitchison Commission – as it was known – was charged with the responsibility ‘to devise a scheme which may reasonably be hoped to possess the necessary elements of finality and to do full justice to the claims of natives of India to higher and more extensive employment in the public service.’ The Commission was mandated to direct its attention mainly to the question of the conditions under which the natives of India should be employed in the posts which are ordinarily reserved for the covenanted service and to questions relating to the admission of natives of India and Europeans respectively to those branches of the un-covenanted service, which are directly engaged in the executive and judicial administration of the country.

Besides the President, the Aitchison Commission consisted of fifteen members and a Secretary. The Indian members were Romesh Chunder Mitter, (Raja) Udhai Pertap Singh, Sayyid Ahmad, Kazi Shahbuddin, Salem Ramaswami Mudaliyar and Krishnaji Lukshaman Nulkar. The Commission included a trained English lawyer of judicial experience, five members (excluding the President) of the covenanted Civil Service. Their personal experience of the actual working of district administration had been sufficiently varied and extensive to entitle them to speak with authority upon the subject matter of the inquiry for their own provinces. There was a representative of the non-official European and the Eurasian community respectively, a member of the un-covenanted Civil Service, and six national members selected from various provinces. Its large membership was deliberately designed to make it representative of the society at large. It included members belonging to various communities– Hindus, Muslims, Europeans and Eurasians; it provided representation to the un-covenanted service as well as to different classes and modes of thought in India the over all motive being to command the maximum confidence of the society.

The Commission submitted its report in 1887. The Commission was opposed to the new, lower age limit of seventeen years prescribed for the competitive examination and urged the maximum age to be re-fixed at twenty-three*.

(* Civil Service was originally, open to the candidates in the age group 18-23. In 1860 the maximum limit was lowered to 22 and in 1865 to twenty one. In 1866, the minimum age was reduced to seventeen.)

The demand of the simultaneous holding, in England as well as in India , of the competitive examination for the Indian Civil Service was strongly expressed by the educated Indians. The Commission itself acknowledged the intensity of Indian feeling on this question. Of all the matters which have been referred for the consideration of the Commission, there is perhaps none which is more important in itself, and to which greater importance is attached by the educated classes, than the introduction of a competitive examination in India for the Civil Service, to be held simultaneously with the competition in England, the examination being identical in all respects. It, however, set its face against this demand. It did not see the holding of the competitive examination in England as nullifying, in any way, the provision of the Act of 1883 or the promise Queen Victoria made in her royal proclamation. The question basically related to the qualifications that were required in the civil servants and the arrangements under which officers possessing such qualifications could best be secured. The object of the Government of India in recruiting in England a limited staff or officers, who after training in India might be entrusted with the more important executive and judicial charges, was (inter alia) to secure the best people and administration conducted on principles and by methods in harmony with modern civilization. The circumstances of India rendered it necessary that, save for exceptional instances, officers with an education which promised the possession of the qualities necessary to achieve this result, should be obtained in England; and from the time the competitive system was introduced, it has been understood that the examination was to bear a distinctively English character, and to constitute a test of English qualifications. The most natural arrangement, therefore, was that the examination should be held in England  as being the centre of the educational system on which it was based. Besides, competition in India would operate with inequality excluding altogether some important classes of the community, while giving undue advantage to others. Also, as the number of vacancies was very small it considered it of little meaning to hold the examination in India ; indeed, a move like this may create a large disappointed and thereby probably discontented class would cause embarrassment to the government.

A demand was made before the Commission to upgrade Sanskrit and Arabic, and to introduce the chief vernacular language of India in the competitive examination but the Commission did not favour any change in the character of the open competitive examination in the case of Indians.

The Commission also turned down a demand for a separate examination in England for India’s Civil Services, because it involved a differential mode of treatment and also because the persons appointed otherwise than by a common test and under a common standard were liable to be regarded as wanting in normal qualification. The Commission supported the formation of a local Civil Service, to be called the Provincial Civil Service. According to the Commission, the claims of natives of India to higher and more extensive employment in the public service and the admission of competent natives of each province of India to a due proportion of the posts heretofore reserved for the Covenanted Civil Service, can be best provided for by reducing the strength of the Covenanted Civil Service and transferring a corresponding number of appointments to a local service to be separately recruited in each province of India. Under this arrangement the Covenanted Civil Service, reduced to a corps d’elite and its numbers limited to what is necessary to fill the chief administrative appointments of the government. Such a number of the smaller appointments as will ensure a complete course of training for junior civilians, will continue to be recruited by open competition in England only, while the provincial service, recruited under different methods adapted to local circumstances, will secure a fair representation of the various races of India in the administration of the country. It is an essential feature of this scheme that each competition in England be open unreservedly to natives as well as to Europeans, that Europeans resident in India who satisfy the prescribed preliminary conditions be eligible equally with natives for provincial service, and that the condition of each service respectively be the same for all who enter it, to whatever nationality they may belong. The advantages of a system based on the above lines are that, while it avoids many of the objections inherent in other schemes, which have been suggested to the Commission, it maintains the very high standard of qualification necessary for the Covenanted Civil Service; it meets the general desire that all Her Majesty’s subjects should receive equal treatment; it creates no difficulties on the score of social custom or religious belief; it adapts itself not only to the present circumstances of the country generally but to the local conditions of the several provinces and to the requirements of the different classes and races of the population; it creates the least possible dislocation of existing arrangements; it enables the government to expand its administrative agency with due regards to economy, and to adjust the conditions of appointment in regard to pay, leave, and pension to the separate circumstances of each service; and it removes all invidious distinctions of class or race. Such distinctions as it does and must maintain are distinctions of service, qualification, and recruitment, it being left open to candidates to elect at the commencement of their career the service for which they can best qualify themselves.

The members of the India and Provincial Civil Services should be put on a footing of social equality and, when holding similar offices, be graded together on the official precedence list. Recruitment to the Provincial Civil Service should be made partly by promotion from the Subordinate Civil Service and partly by examination with regard to the executive service, and direct nomination with regard to the judicial service. The pay scale of the Provincial Civil Service should be fixed on independent ground, and should have no relation to the pay scale of the Indian Civil Service. The Commission recommended that a Provincial Civil Service should be constituted in each department of the government as far as possible. But the control of certain departments should be retained in the hands of the members of the ICS so as to secure that the operations of those departments are conducted in conformity with the principles governing the general administration and to avoid interdepartmental friction.

Below the Provincial Civil Service, a lower service, to be called the Subordinate Civil Service, should be set up. The lower point at which a line of division should be drawn between the Provincial and Subordinate Services is one of some importance, and with reference to it two considerations have to be borne in mind. The first is that the qualifications required for admission to the Provincial Service must be such as to give fair promise that the candidates admitted to it will in time be fit to discharge the duties of higher appointments formerly belonging to the Covenanted Service but now to be amalgamated with the Provincial Service, to which members of the provincial Service will ordinarily in due course be promoted. The second is that the rate of pay of the appointments at the commencement of service, generally, should be such as to attract men possessing qualifications of the kind referred to above. In the executive service of the several provinces, a more or less distinct line of division can be found between, on the one hand, the appointment of Deputy Collectors or extra Assistant Commissioners, and on the other hand, the appointment of Tahsildars, Mamlatdars or Mukhtyarkars. During this period, probationer to Indian Civil Service could, with the permission of the Secretary of State, remain in England to study for a degree after the completion of a two-year probationary period. This practice disturbed the annual intake into the service and inconvenienced the provinces. Moreover, as the Commission pointed out, it does not consider it a defensible arrangement to spend the revenues of India in helping candidates who, having passed their period of probationary training successfully, are pronounced qualified for service in India, to complete their general education.

The recommendations of the Commission gained the general approval of the central government and the Secretary of State for India. The Secretary of State for India, however, did not look favorably at the Commission’s recommendation for throwing open to the non-ICS personnel certain appointments reserved for the members of the Indian Civil Service and of amalgamating these with the Provincial Civil Service appointments. He held the view that such posts should be occupied by specially selected officers of proved merit and ability, and could not be held by members of the Provincial Civil Service recruited in the main with reference to the qualifications required to fill posts of a less responsible and less independent character. The general scheme of the Commission was accordingly modified before being implemented.

In accordance with the recommendation of the Aitchison Commission, the designation ‘Indian Covenanted Civil Service’ was abolished, and the Civil Services of the country were divided into three grades, the Imperial Civil Service (called the ‘Civil Service of India’ as decided by the Secretary of State for India popularly known as Indian Civil Service), the Provincial Civil Service, and the Subordinate Civil Service. The superior posts were included in the Indian Civil Service and the recruitment to it vested in the Secretary for State in Council. Besides, the Statutory Civil Service was liquidated and a number of posts earlier reserved for this service were made available to the members of the Provincial Civil Services. 

The Aitchison Commission strived to meet the expectations of Indians for higher and more extensive employment in the government by recommending, firstly, a reduction in the cadre of the Indian Civil Service and, secondly, a transfer of a corresponding number of appointments to the Provincial Civil Service. It visualized the Provincial Civil Service as offering a suitable avenue for Indians. Further, by recommending that the members of the Indian and Provincial Civil Services should be put on a footing of social equality, it sought to nip in the bud any complaint or implication of inferiority of the Provincial Civil Service. The Royal Commission on the Public Service in India (1915), popularly called the Islington Commission after the name of its Chairman, made the following assessment of the changes made as a consequence of the Aitchison report:

The reforms which, they (the Aitchison Commission) introduced undoubtedly resulted in a great improvement in the standard of every service. The Provincial Civil Service officers, in particular, upon whom devolves the greater part of the administrative and judicial work in which the people at large are most interested, have given general satisfaction in the limited sphere allotted to them. We are also satisfied that the abolition of the Statutory Civil Service, which has not fulfilled the expectations with which it was formed, was expedient, and that, generally speaking, the officers promoted from the Provincial Civil posts have done efficient work. On the other hand the expectations formed as to the status, which these officers should enjoy have to a great extent been falsified and there is no doubt that the provincial service system generally has not proved successful as a means of meeting the claims which have continuously been put forward on behalf of Indians to employment of the higher type. The inferiority in status and social position which has always attached to the provincial services, aggravated to some extent since the reforms were introduced by subsequent changes, has been felt by the Indian public as a real grievance, particularly in the case of the more important services such as the civil, educational and public works.

Executive Summary

The Aitchison Report of the Public Service Commission, submitted in 1887 to the Government of India is a notable one in the history of Indian administration, developing as it does its basic skeleton or anatomy. The hitherto existing Indian Covenanted Civil Service, performing the functions of supervision and practical administration in British India was replaced by the newly created Indian Civil Service, called the Imperial Civil Service by the Aitchison Commission. The Secretary of State for India chose the nomenclature Civil Service of India to the Aitchison Commission’s term but the popularly used term is Indian Culture Service. The Aitchison Committee sought to make the newly established India Civil Service an elite service of Indian administration; it pruned its membership and created a satellite service – the Provincial Civil Service or PCS to occupy less important posts once its own preserve. The Aitchison Commission is thus the father or architect of the present day state administrative service or PCS- the backbone of the state level administration. The Report is best known for its communication of the British attitude towards the employment of Indians in the Civil Service. To encourage the employment of educated Indians in Country’s Public Service, the Aitchison Committee recommended the establishment of a new service at the provincial level, the Provincial Civil Service or PCS. According to the Aitchison Commission the establishment of the PCS would be able to provide sufficient avenue for the employment of educated Indians.

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