Earlier this month, the results of the Indian civil service exam – that selects candidates for the upper echelons of India’s civil services -  were announced. The expansion of the job market, catalysed by the 1990s economic reforms, appears to have not dented the aura of the civil services. It continues to be the most sought-after career choice for millions of young Indians. 

The Indian Civil Service (ICS), the precursor to the Indian Administrative Service, played a key role in maintaining British colonial administration and implementing British policies. Leaders of the freedom movement often bore the brunt of ICS officers' decisions, including being put in jail.  

When India was on the cusp of gaining independence, there was a deep sense of mistrust between the Indian ICS members and Indian political leaders who were reluctant to offer a significant role to the ICS officers in independent India. However, they were aware that an administrative corps, especially one that had prior experience,  was critical to India’s governance.  This tension came into sharp relief in a debate that was part of the framing of India’s Constitution. 

On 10th October 1949K.M. Munshi, a member of the Drafting Committee, moved Draft Article 283-A in the Constituent Assembly for its approval.  The Article provided for members of the civil service of the Crown who held positions in the British Indian government to continue working under the Government of Independent India under conditions (pay, leave, benefits, protections) of service that they enjoyed in the previous colonial Indian government. The Draft Article operationalized Section 10 of the Indian Independence Act 1947 – the document that set out the terms on which the British transferred power to Indians.  

The majority of Assembly members who took part in the debate around Draft Article 238-A opposed the provision on the following grounds: first, the Draft Article would put constraints on future parliaments in regulating the civil service. Second, the Draft Article should be an Act of parliament rather than a constitutional provision, thereby giving parliament some flexibility. Third, the weak financial position of India may require civil servants to take a pay cut – thereby violating the provision. And fourth, the Draft Article was discriminatory as it treated civil servants who were part of British administration differently from those who would be recruited after independence.  

There were some members who came out in support of the Draft Article. Brajeshwar Prasad emphasised the duty of the Indian government to honour the agreement made with the British. Not doing so, he argued, would bode badly for Indian politics. He also rejected arguments that called for the Draft Article to be a law enacted by parliament instead of a constitutional provision. He did not have faith in the adult franchise and the kind of people that would end up being elected. He argued that as a constitutional provision, Draft Article 283-A would be harder to amend and will protect the civil service from extremists and radical ideologues who may get elected to parliament. 

The most passionate defence of the provision and the civil service as a whole was mounted by Sardar Patel. He asked the members who opposed the Draft Article about their lack of protest on the issue when the terms of transfer of power were being drawn up – the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 were not discussed in secret. 

He was livid with members of the Assembly who questioned the loyalty of the civil service and reminded them that it was because of the loyalty and patriotism of the civil service that the union of India did not collapse during 1946-49. He further reminded the Constituent Assembly that the political functioning of the government was impossible without the assistance of the civil service. 

It appears that Patel’s speech convinced Assembly members who then voted to include Draft Article 283-A into the Constitution which later, in its final form, became Article 314 of the adopted Constitution of India, 1950. 

However, 21 years later, Parliament through the 28th amendment to the Constitution, repealed Article 314 to remove what it believed were undue benefits given to a certain section of the civil service , ie. those who served under the British. This rationale was identical to the argument put forward by Shibban Lal Saxena in the Assembly who wanted all civil servants to be on an equal footing.