Role of Civil Services in Democracy

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : September 21st, 2020

In this article, you will learn about the significance and role of civil services like IAS, IPS, IRS, etc. in Democracy like India. And you will understand issues created by the current civil services in providing effective administration and finally learn about suggestions recommended for reforms in civil services for ensuring better governance.

Difference between Democracy and Civil Services (Bureaucracy)

Let us first understand the difference between Democracy and Civil Services (Bureaucracy). The differences are as under:


Civil Services (Bureaucracy)

A system of Government

A system of Administration

Representatives are elected by People for a fixed tenure.

Officers are selected on merit and hold office till retirement age.

Peoples’ representatives make laws

Officers implement those Laws

People are consulted for the enactment of laws

Officers advise and direct the representatives in the policy process- formulation, implementation and evaluation.

Bound by principles liberty and equality

Bound by a system of procedure, rules and hierarchy, etc.


India inherited the legacy of the British; Civil Services is one, among others. During the British Raj, the role of Civil Services was regulatory in nature - law and order enforcement, and revenue administration. However, the role of CS has changed, after India got independence, with the new government assumed the role of a welfare state.

While addressing the First IAS batch, Sardar Patel put it elegantly about the transformation in the role of Civil Services from Police State to Welfare state:

“Your predecessors (Civil Servants during British Raj) were brought up in the traditions in which they … kept themselves aloof from the common run of the people. It will be your bounden duty to treat the common men in India as your own.”

It means, in the welfare state, Civil Services acquired a key role in implementing national and state welfare policies and developmental plans.


Significance of the Civil Services 

  • In a parliamentary democracy like India, Council of Ministers (CoM), i.e. Union or a State cabinet, is responsible for the administration of government and policymaking. However, it is Civil Services that actually advise CoM regarding administration and carry out the laws made by CoM.
  • Civil Services play a vital role in a policy or law-making process- formulation, execution, monitoring and evaluation- and also implements rules and regulations.
  • Its all India character binds states and people together and subdue secessionist and parochial mentality.
  • It offers leadership at various levels of administration and delivery of services.
  • Even in case of political instability, CS provides unbiased advice to the political leadership.
  • It provides effective coordination between the various institutions, departments and other government bodies, etc.

Role of Civil Services

  • Civil Services form a basis of Government without which there is no administration. 
  • Implementing of Laws and Policies: Civil services are responsible for implementing laws and executing policies framed by the government.
  • Policy Formulation: They are responsible for policy formulation by advising and providing necessary insights about pros and cons to the ministers.
  • Welfare Services: Advice on welfare schemes to be drafted and developed by the government including social security (pensions), the welfare of vulnerable sections of society and poverty alleviation etc.
  • Developmental Functions: Civil Services lays down developmental plans for promoting agriculture on scientific lines, industrial sector, services sector including banking and trade functions, and improving digital literacy etc.
  • Stabilising Force: Governments are temporary, while Civil Service is permanent. The civil service offers stability even during political instability maybe because of emergency and during the fall of the government. They provide continuity of services to people.
  • Conduct Elections: The Service conducts elections in a free and fair manner and also empowers voters through voter education.
  • Instruments of Social Change & Economic Development: Civil Servants play the role of change agents. With the policies, schemes and plans they advise to the ministers, they help change the lives of people.
  • Administrative Adjudication: The civil services head the tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies to settle disputes.


Issues with Civil Services

  • Second ARC vide 10th Report talked at length about bureaucratic behaviour-aloof, uncaring and unresponsive to people.
  • They are reluctant to accept the changes in control and accountability as well as the altered roles and responsibilities as they are habituated to their privileges and prospects and have become ends in themselves.
  • They are adapted to command and control approaches rather addressing the needs and aspirations of common man.
  • Inadequate capacity building and lack of expertise.
  • Decline of ethics and values in personal and public life.
  • Nexus between civil servants and political executives resulted in rampant corruption and nepotism.
  • The unproductive incentive system that does not reward the honest and meritorious civil servants and also frequent arbitrary transfers affect the morale of civil services fraternity.
  • Strict adherence to rules and procedures led to red tapism.
  • Lack of accountability and transparency in functioning with no adequate protection for whistle-blowers etc.


Some Recommendations to reform Civil Services

  • Sixth Pay Commission recommended the institution of a new performance-based pecuniary benefit, other than regular salary, for the government employees to:
    • Improve employee motivation
    • Attain higher productivity or output and
    • Deliver quality public service
    • Above all, it seeks higher goals of effectiveness and systematic change for responsive governance
  • Some experts and committees also recommended the lateral entry into Civil Services that bring in domain experts, like what the NDA government has tried out recently. Later entry is believed to enhance professionalism in administration.
  • Second ARC recommended several reforms including:
    • Code of ethics and conduct for civil servants to keep up honesty, integrity and public spirit.
    • Mid-career training should be provided to develop domain knowledge
    • Required officers to pursue higher academic qualifications and to write papers for reputed and authoritative journals etc.
  • Supreme Court said Right to Information overrides Official Secrets Act also. Hence ensuring transparent and accountable administration shall be the bounden duty of Civil Servants.

An ethical, dynamic and professional Civil Services is the need of the hour that will transform not only Indian administration but whole Indian society and economy.

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