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Dynamics of Civil Services

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  • Published
    24th Aug, 2021


In the pre-modem era, up to the seventeenth century, there used to be a head of a tribe, or after some progress a local lord, and finally a monarch who rules based on traditional power and continues his status by succession. But due to enlightenment, modem democracy evolved based on elections and the people's 'representatives' (not the people themselves, as only in a direct democracy e.g. in Switzerland) started ruling and governing the state.

Hence there was a need to objectively administer there in the day to- day matters without favour or disfavour based on caste, class, race, gender, place of birth, language, and so on.

Type of Authority and its characteristics

Max Weber distinguished between three types of authority (legitimate power):

  • Traditional authority (based on succession, rituals, subjective desires, etc.)
  • Charismatic authority (based on gifted quality, e.g. Swami Vivekananda, Lord Rama, etc.) and
  • Rational-legal authority i.e. bureaucracy. It was the most ideal type sought after because of its objectivity and rationality.

He defined bureaucracy as the 'formal organisation' with the following characteristics:

  1. Formal selection and promotion based on well-defined norms and criteria, primarily merit and transparency.
  2. Written rules, regulations, processes, and procedures so that biases and personal likes/dislikes do not favour or disfavour anyone.
  3. Hierarchical structure- well defined senior, middle and junior levels so that the seniors may inspect, monitor, and give guidance to their juniors on the one hand, and may hear appeals/revisions arising against the orders of junior officers; further, feedback from below may result in changing rules/procedures/criteria/norms, etc.
  4. Specialisation and division of labour and responsibility- a clear balancing of tasks, sharing power (discretion or force against other's wishes), and responsibility.
  5. Professionalism prevails over personal whims; and Career-orientation- To have stability and continuity, bureaucracy is by nature permanent-a long period of a career with different assignments to gain experience in diverse fields brings maturity for preparing a public policy.

Therefore, Max Weber preferred the rational-legal authority of bureaucracy as an ideal type to the other two types of authority in a democratic society.

Pathologies of the System

  • Various pathological syndromes are seen in the everyday behaviour of officers and the system. Bureaucracy is often blamed for 'red tapism' (i.e. delay) and indecisiveness in many forms:
  • Sometimes it is necessary to take the considered opinion of the Ministry of Law or Ministry of Finance (if the Rules are not clear or the issue is complex) for taking an appropriate decision but not always.
  • Queries by the superiors are made in parts and frequently, not once by taking all aspects. This delays the decision-making process unnecessarily.
  • Often a plea of 'too much work' is given for delay; hence more decentralisation, better division of works, and separating 'urgent', 'important', and 'routine' tasks is highly required.
  • The second pathological syndrome is 'too busy, hence cannot attend phone calls or give personal hearing to the aggrieved persons'. This leads to further delay, deterioration of a situation, corrupt practices by the subordinates or middlemen, inefficiency due to not attending the feedback, and a bad image of the office/officer concerned.
  • The third is the prevalence of the 'transfer industry' in most of the states, at different levels. The principle of three years' tenure is hardly followed, and many officers are transferred within a year or even earlier without sufficientgenuine reasons.
  • Civil Services Boards in states exist only formally, to sign on the proposal mooted by the power that i.e. 'from the above', hence the very purpose of objectivity and transparency is defeated.
  • On the other hand, there are instances wherein some officers continue on the same post for nine or ten years because of political connection, backing, and favour to officers of a particular caste or religious community. This deprives other competent officers to have an experience on that post as every post has its peculiarities in terms of problems, challenges, and opportunities, and the beneficiary officer develops arrogance, egoism, and connivance on the other hand.
  • Similarly, there are certain 'shunting posts' where no work, no file, and no facilities exist. This wastes money, time, and career. Often favoured transfers are linked with parochial consideration and money changes hands. Thus the vicious circle of corruption goes on and on.
  • Finally, there has been the triad of 'Liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation' (LPG), hence policy decision is sometimes based on the hypothesis that public sector is bad, and private sector is good. Therefore various entities' shares are sold and even the entire enterprise is sold under the euphemism of 'disinvestment'. Further, the over-reporting of development works and under-reporting of losses by the civil servants is unfortunate and it betrays the oath of Constitution taken en masse at the training Academies.


We may conclude that bureaucracy is compatible with democracy wherein the people's representatives are on the driver's seat, hence they need to guide the civil servants whose independent advice and alternative views should not be considered as putting the cart before the horse. If we may make a SWOT analysis of civil services, we find that its strengths (selection on merit, acting as per rules, permanence) are more than its weaknesses (redtapism, some black sheep); it has an opportunity to serve the nation through new ways, changes, reducing human interface, but threats are to be removed at the earliest for strengthening the administrators further.

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