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The Royal Commission on the Public Service in India

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A comprehensive examination of India’s Civil Service system was undertaken in 1912 when the British Government in London appointed what was called the Royal Commission on the Public Services in India Competitive examination for public recruitment. This was introduced in India in 1854 giving birth to a new Civil Service in the country. The patronage-based Civil Service was replaced by merit-based recruitment. There was thus no fresh addition to Haileyburians (as they were called) and thus both the streams co-existed: – The Haileyburians and the ‘Competition Wallas’ until the last Haileyburian retired from the service. The Royal Commission on the Public Services in India was set up in 1912 to examine the methods of recruitment to the Indian Civil Service and other Civil Service, imperial and provincial and conditions of service, salary, leave and pension. The Royal Commission was also to look into the employment of Indians in the Civil Service. The Royal Commission comprised of 12 members including the Chairman John Poynder, Baron Islington. Nine members including its Chairman were British while the remaining three were Indian. The Indian members were Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mahadev Chaubal and Abdur Rahim. The Report is in twenty volumes. Volume one contains main report, volume two to volume nine contain the evidence relating to the Indian and provincial Civil Service taken in India in each of the nine provides in which made up British India and great Britain volumes XII to XX contain the evidence taken in regard to other service and department. The evidence in volume II to XI record processes accepted for the remaining volumes.


The Royal Commission on the Public Service in India submitted its report in 1915. The Commission recommended the organisation of the Civil Service based on the work it was assigned. When there is a large body of work of a less important character to be done, though of a kind which cannot be performed by a subordinate agency, it would obviously be extravagant to recruit officers to do it on the terms required to obtain men for a higher class of duty. In such circumstances there must be two services or two classes of one service, and the lower service or class must occupy a position inferior to that of the higher one. These conditions exist in the Indian Civil Service and in the Agricultural, Civil Veterinary, Education, Forest , Medical, Police and Survey of India Departments. The Commission recommends, therefore, that lower and higher branches of these services be maintained or constituted over and above the subordinate branches. In the Public Works Department and in the Engineering branches of the Railway and Telegraph Departments, on the other hand, the superior duties are performed by one class of superior officers, recruited on a single standard of superior officers, recruited on a single standard of qualifications. The Commission therefore recommended the amalgamation of the present imperial and provincial sections into a single service. In the way it achieved an organization sections into a single service. In this way it achieved an organization of the services based on the work, which they are required to do, and not on the race of, or the salaries drawn by, their members or any such artificial distinction.

As already explained, the promoted officers suffered from handicaps in not being allowed to hold higher administrative appointments.

In the police force promoted deputy superintendents could only a fixed number of superintendent ships of the second and lower grades, Similarly, in the forest and survey of India departments there was no clear field for promotion for everyone. The officers selected from the provincial service in each case to hold minor charges were confined to these charges throughout their careers. This arrangement was not only indefensible in principle but mischievous in practice. Though the system was applied to all alike without any distinction of race, it was in the nature of things that the bulk of the officers promoted in this manner would be statutory natives of India, and the discrimination exercised to their prejudice was widely misinterpreted. This was the more marked, as no such arrangement was found necessary in the case of officers promoted from the subordinate to the provincial services. The practice also told against efficiency, for, with the lower status, there was a danger that a lower standard would be established, and that individuals would be promoted not so much on the ground of marked capacity as of general worthiness combined with seniority. The Commission recommended, therefore that promoted officers be given in future the same opportunities as officers who were directly recruited. Both should be shown on the same list and take seniority amongst themselves from their date of entry on the list. Promoted officers should also be eligible on their merits for appointment to any in their service.

The Commission recommended that the members of the Indian Civil Service should no longer be appointed as Directors of Agriculture. Similarly, Inspector-Generalship of Police should no longer be borne on Indian Civil Service cadre… so as to make it easier to appoint police officers.

The term ‘Provincial’ should not form the official designation of any service organised under the Provincial Government. This service should bear the name of its province; for example, the U.P Civil Service, the Bihar Civil Service, etc. For Civil Service under the Government of India, terms class I and class II should be used. The Islington Commission is, thus, the architect of the classification of service into class I and class II, although the new nomenclature does not appear to have come into vogue until 1926*.

(* Until the Islington Commission, the civil servants were classified into superior, subordinate and inferior services. Later, the Civil Services were divided into class I, class II, subordinate services and inferior services. The Central Pay Commission (1946—47) recommended the naming of the last two services (subordinate and inferior services) as class III and class IV. Thus, we come to have class I, class II, class III and class IV services.)

To the Islington Commission goes the credit of anticipating the present institution of the Development Commissioner. The Commission recommended the appointment of what it called ‘Rural Commissioner’ in each province, who should be made responsible for the rural development schemes of his province. It wrote: ‘In order to provide for the effective organisation and coordination of the various agencies concerned with the rural development of the country, the Commission recommended the appointment of a Rural Commissioner to control the work of the agricultural and civil veterinary departments, the cooperative credit movement, and the measures taken for the improvement of arts and crafts in provinces where effective control is not already or cannot otherwise be provided. These officers should be drawn from the Indian Civil Service.’

The Civil Service for which recruitment was already made in India should continue to be recruited for this country. The Indian finance department should be added to this category. The military finance department should be similarly treated if there are military considerations to the contrary. Eventually, similar action should be taken with the customs department. The remaining services, for which recruitment is now made wholly in Great Britain , or partly in Britain and partly in India, should be divided into three main groups. In the first, should be placed the Indian Civil Services and the Police Department, in which it should be recognised that a preponderating proportion of the officers should be recruited in Britain . In the second, should come services like the Education, Medical, Public Works etc., in which there are grounds of policy for continuing to have, in the personnel, an admixture of both western and eastern elements. For these services arrangements should be made for recruitment in both the countries. In the third, should be placed certain scientific and technical services, such as the Agricultural And Civil Veterinary Departments, etc., for the normal requirements of which it should be the aim to recruit eventually in India . To this end, educational institutions should be developed in India on a level with those now existing in Europe so as to produce the necessary supply of candidates.

The Islington Commission is, today, best known for the principle it laid down for fixation of rates of salary to the civil servants. The direct recruits should be kept on probation for two years (three years for ICS probationers). A probationary course in England should be given only to the recruits for the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Forest Service; In the case of the Indian Civil Service a period of probation in the United Kingdom under Government control will always be necessary.

Speaking generally, our aim has been to give a more pronounced orientation to the probationary course so as to afford officers better equipment for their life’s work. For the Indian Civil Service we have recommended a probationary course extending over three years, and specially devised to prepare the probationer for his future Indian career, and more particularly of the important legal work, which he will be called upon to perform. The course should be taken at a university and should be sufficiently broad in scope and conception to fulfil the essentials of a liberal education. 

On the vexed question of the employment of Indians (the Commission used the word ‘non-Europeans’) in the Civil Services, the Commission suggested measures such as the expansion of technical institutions in India, advertisement of vacancies, nomination of Indians on selection committees, publication of statistics relating to the employment of members of the various communities. According to the Commission the existing system of recruitment had failed to give a fair share to Indians in the Civil Services. It, however, did not agree with the idea of simultaneous examinations, which it felt to be a mere means to an end. It recommended a minimum of twenty-five per cent of higher posts to be filled up by Indians. Thus, out of a total of 755 higher posts that existed at that time, 189 were to be held by Indians. In addition, forty district and sessions judgeships should be recruited for the Bar, and forty-one superior posts should be set-aside for members of the Provincial Civil Services. The balance of 108 were to be filled, at the rate of nine a year, by direct recruitment in India.

As the demand for an increase in the number of Indians in the Civil Service of the country constituted a great theme of the day, it would be good to refer to the Commission’s views on it.

‘We have considered very carefully how best to find a remedy for this condition of affairs. One of the suggestions made to us was to grant state scholarships to promising young men to go to Europe to qualify themselves for the services. At present the scholarships given by the state are of three kinds. In the first place, young men who have shown proficiency in oriental learning are given financial assistance to enable them to go to Europe and there get into touch with the best-known teachers in their own special subjects. Again, efforts are made through this means to get young Indians to study technical subjects like Weaving, Mining, or Metallurgy with a view to developing industrial enterprise on their return to India. Such a system has certain advantages in the earlier stages of a country’s development, and there is still scope for it today in India. But it should be recognised that it is more profitable to spend money on indigenous institutions with a view to equipping them on a scale, which will make India self-supporting in this respect. The third kind of state scholarship is that now enjoyed by the Indian Government scholars, two of whom are appointed each year on the nomination of the universities with a view to facilitating the education in Europe of the most promising young men in India. Several of these have found their way into the public services, but we hesitate to recommend the extension of the system in any general form for purely service purposes, both because of the objection of principle to the employment of state funds for the benefit of individuals, and also of the misunderstanding to which it must give rise. However, many warnings may be issued, a young man sent to Europe at an early age with such a mark of recognition naturally tends to regard himself, and to be regarded, as having received the promise of employment, and this becomes embarrassing at the stage of actual appointment when he does not come up to expectation. It is also a hardship to the scholar himself when this failure is due to lack of ability and to no fault of his own. We have also gone into a proposal to fix for every service in which the question arise on a definite minimum number or proportion of places to be reserved for Indians. This at first sight appears a simple solution, and we have adopted it as a temporary palliative in a few of the services recruited in India in which technical qualifications are not needed, and where Indians are clearly not being employed in sufficient numbers. We have, however, avoided it as a universal measure, partly because of the general undesirability of proportions based on race, but mainly because we recognise the tendency of a minimum to become a maximum and wish to establish nothing which will prevent qualified Indians, where available, from being appointed in any number on their merits. We have accordingly dismissed the idea of any single solution of the problem and have attacked it in detail in the various Annexures to our report. Speaking generally, however, in the services in which we contemplate that recruitment will be made partly in Europe and partly in India, we have indicated approximately the representation which we wish to see given to the European and non-European elements by the proportions which we have allotted as suitable to each country. Thus in the Indian Civil Service, which with the police department we have placed separately in our first group is likely to require for many years to come a preponderating proportion of British officers, we have proposed that roughly three-quarters of the superior post be recruited for in England and one-quarter in India. It is true that Indians will be eligible for appointment in England as well as in India, whilst all statutory natives of India, whether Europeans, Anglo-Indians, will be eligible in India. But in the nature of things the bulk of the candidates successful in England will be Europeans, and in India will be Indians. We have followed a similar procedure for regulating the number of non-European members in the services contained in our second group, in which we do not contemplate that Europeans will continue indefinitely to hold a preponderating share. In the Public Works and Railway (Engineering) Departments, for example, we have proposed that provision be made for obtaining half of the staff from India. Again, in the education department we have recommended that the post of a superior character now in the provincial service be combined with those now in the imperial service into a class I of a new service, and that to the extent of the cadre so formed recruitment be made in India and in England in the proportion which the element promoted from the provincial service tears to the element taken from the old imperial service. As the Department grows with the creation of new posts we have proposed a half-and-half distribution of the additional appointments over the two countries. On the other hand, in the services included in our third group which are now recruited in Europe through the lack of educational facilities in India we have recommended, wherever possible, the immediate provision of such opportunities as will secure in due time an adequate number of officers from India to meet the normal requirements of those Departments. This, as already explained, will necessitate the creation or expansion of various technical institutions. In order that these may attract from the first a good class, we think it desirable that an undertaking should be given that not less than half of the recruits each year will be chosen from amongst those students who have most distinguished themselves, provided that, in the opinion of the selection Committee or other responsible authority, their work has been such as to justify their appointment. We have also proposed changes of organisation in certain departments, which will lead to the increased employment of non-Europeans. In the Public Works And Railway (Engineering) Departments in particular we have not only recommended an increase in the proportion of vacancies to be filled in India, but have also sensibly reduced the European element by diminishing the period of service in the grade of Assistant Engineer through which all officers are obliged to pass. We have also endeavored to secure the due consideration of the claims of Indians by advising for several services that all vacancies be advertised, whilst we have provided that there shall be Indian representation on the committees which, as we shall explain later, we desire to see created to advise on the selection of direct recruits in those services in which appointment is to be made by nomination. Finally, we lay stress on the desirability of keeping up-to-date the statistics relating to the employment of members of various communities in the higher branches of the public services. These should be raised every ten years after such readjustment as is necessary to preserve their significance. We attach importance to this, as we believe that in the long run the surest security for the employment of a due number of Indians lies in publicity and in the watchfulness of the representatives of their interests in the various legislative councils.’

As said earlier, the Islington Commission submitted its report in August 1915. It was not, however, published until two years later. The recommendations of Commission had virtually become obsolete for at least three significant reasons. The Great War started in 1914 and the exigencies of the situation warranted postponement of the consideration of the Islington Commission’s recommendations. Also the war produced an upheaval of prices, which raised the cost of living. Most importantly, the Secretary of State for India made the historic announcement in August 1917 ‘of seeking increased association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the introduction of responsible Government’. As the Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms (1918) observed: ‘When written it (the Islington Report) might have satisfied moderate Indian opinion, but when published two years later it was criticised as disappointing’. The report was thus, shelved forever. 

Executive Summary

The Islington Commission submitted its Report in 1915 when the First Great War had already broken out. It was published two years later in 1917. The War had raised India’s political expectations, which the Report failed to respond. The Report thus lost its practical utility and was shelved. Yet, the Report carries enormous importance for understanding that the development of the Civil Service in India was unitary, until the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1919. The term All India Services was earlier known as Imperial Service, the Indian Civil Service being the most visible example in other such services as were in Agricultural, Civil Veterinary, Education, Forest, Medical, Police and Survey of India Departments.

The Report is today remembered the most for the principle of Civil Service salary fixation it enunciated. There is hardly any pay Commission, which has looked into the question of salaries of civil servants in India , which has not quoted this principle and given its approval to it. The Principle is: “The only safe criterion is that Government should pay so much and so much only to their employees as is necessary to obtain recruits of the right stamp and to maintain them in such a degree of comfort and dignity as well shield them from temptation and keep them efficient for the term of their service.”

Written by upsc aspirants

January 27th, 2012 at 9:40 pm

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