A Brief History Of The IAS

A Summarised History Of The Indian Administrative Service

During the occupation of India by the East India Company, the civil services were divided into three categories — covenanted, un-covenanted and special civil services.

The covenanted civil service, or the Honourable East India Company’s Civil Service (HEICCS), as it was called, largely consisted of British civil servants occupying the senior posts in the government.

The un-covenanted civil service was introduced to facilitate the entry of Indians into the lower rungs of the administration to help mange and run things on the ground.

The special services consisted of specialised departments, such as the Indian Forest Service, the Indian Police and the Indian Political Service, whose ranks were drawn from either the covenanted civil services or the British Indian Army. Indeed, the Indian Police counted many British Indian Army officers among its members!


In 1784, the East India Company initiated some reforms. These were designed to create an elite civil service where very talented young Britons would spend their entire careers. Advanced training was promoted especially at the Haileybury and Imperial Service College (until 1853) in England. Haileybury emphasised the Anglican religion and morality and trained students in the classical Indian languages. Many of these young men considered it their duty to represent their nation and to modernise India.

The Company’s original policy had been one of “Orientalism”, that is of adjusting to the way of life and customs of the Indian people and not trying to reform them. That changed after 1813, as the forces of reform in England, especially evangelical religion, Whiggish political outlook, and Utilitarian philosophy worked together to make the Company an agent of Anglicization and modernization in India.

Christian missionaries became more active in India. The Raj set out to outlaw customs like Sati (widow-burning) and Thuggee (ritual banditry) and upgrade the status of women. It was decided that schools would be established in which they would teach the English language and modernization programmes would be taken up.

Unfortunately, however, the 1830s and 1840s were not times of prosperity for the Company. After defraying the expenditure on the military, the Company had little money to engage in large-scale public works projects or modernisation programmes. So, not much headway was made.

The british crown STEPS IN

Meanwhile, events overtook the Company, and after the First Indian War of Independence in 1857, the Company was removed and the administration of the Company’s territories in India was directly taken over by the British Crown.

In 1858, the HEICCS was replaced by the Imperial Civil Service (ICS), which became the highest civil service in British ruled India between 1858 and 1947. The last appointments of British officers to the ICS were made in 1942 and the last appointments of Indian officers to the ICS were made in 1943.

With the passing of the Government of India Act, 1919, the Imperial Services — under the oversight of the Secretary of State for India — had been split into two arms, the All India Services and the Central Services.

The Imperial Civil Service, later also called the Indian Civil Service, was one of the ten All India Services.

In 1946, at the Premier’s Conference in India, the then-Central Cabinet decided to form the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), based on the Imperial Civil Service (ICS); and the Indian Police Service (IPS), based on the Imperial Police (IP).


When India was partitioned following the departure of the British in 1947, the Imperial Civil Service was divided between the new dominions of India and Pakistan. The Indian remnant of the ICS was named the Indian Administrative Service, while the Pakistan remnant was named the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS).

After independence, there were heated discussions among the leaders of the various political parties whether the administrative structure set up by the British in the form of the Imperial Civil Service should be altogether disbanded or not. Many political leaders, including the Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, disliked the ICS intensely and looked upon them as the British instruments of tyranny over the Indian people. However, Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India, under whose charge the services fell, defended them heroically in the Parliament and urged for their continuation. He also hinted that if his request was not heeded then he was likely to resign.

Sardar Patel Champions the CAUSE OF THE All India Services

Speaking during the debate held in the Constituent Assembly on 10th October 1949 regarding the need for the continuation of the All India Services under the post independence dispensation, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister of India spoke inter alia as under:

“… as a man of experience I tell you, do not quarrel with the instruments with which you want to work. It is a bad workman who quarrels with his instruments. Take work from them. Every man wants some sort of encouragement. Nobody wants to put in work when every day he is criticised and ridiculed in public. Nobody will give you work like that. So, once and for all decide whether you want this service or not. If you have done with it and decide not to have this service at all, even in spite of my pledged word, I will take the Services with me and go. The nation has changed its mind.

“… The Union will go-you will not have a united India, if you have not a good all-India service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has a sense of security that you will stand by your word and, that after all there is the Parliament, of which we can be proud, where their rights and privileges are secure. If you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present Constitution. Substitute something else…

“Many of them with whom I have worked, I have no hesitation in saying that they are as patriotic, as loyal and as sincere as myself…

These people are the instruments. Remove them and I see nothing but a picture of chaos all over the country.”

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel carried the day and the service was retained and found a place in the Constitution of India that was being framed.


The present Indian Administrative Service was created under Article 312(2) in part XIV of the Constitution of India, and the All India Services Act, 1951.

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