The Role of Civil Services in a Democracy

In a democracy, civil services play an important role in the administration, policy formulation and implementation, and in taking the country forward towards progress and development

Democracy is an egalitarian principle in which the governed elect the people who govern over them. There are three pillars of modern democracy: Legislature, Executive, and the Judiciary.
The civil services form a part of the executive. While the ministers, who are part of the executive, are temporary and are reelected or replaced by the people by their will (through elections), the civil servants are the permanent part of the executive.

The civil servants are accountable to the political executive, the ministers. The civil services are thus a subdivision under the government. The officers in the civil services form the permanent staff of the various governmental departments. They are expert administrators. They are sometimes referred to as the bureaucracy or also as the public service.

Importance of the Civil Services:

  • The civil service is present all over India and thus has a binding character.
  • It plays a vital role in effective policy-making and regulation.
  • It offers non-partisan advice to the political leadership of the country.
  • The service results in coordination between the various institutions of governance.
  • It offers service delivery and leadership at different levels of administration.

Functions of the Civil Services:

  • Civil services are the basis of governments. No government can function without an administrative machinery, which is necessary for implementing policies.
  • Civil services are responsible for implementing laws and executing policies framed by the government. The role of Civil Servants across the domains of policy making and policy implementation is critical to the development process.
  • The civil service is chiefly responsible for policy formulation as well. The civil service officers advise ministers in this regard and also provide them with facts and ideas.
  • Amidst political instability, the civil service offers a sense of stability and permanence. Civil services carry on the governance when governments change due to elections etc. While governments and ministers can come and go, civil service is a permanent fixture giving the administrative set-up continuity.
  • Successful policy implementation will lead to positive changes in the lives of ordinary people. The task of actualizing schemes and policies fall with the officers of the civil services.
  • Civil services are also managing public enterprises and public utilities in the interest of socio-economic justice. Public utilities are either publicly owned or strictly regulated in most countries. Government also imposes controls over private economic and business activities in the public interest.
  • The services offer welfare schemes such as providing social security, the welfare of weaker and vulnerable sections of society, old-age pensions, poverty alleviation, etc.
  • The services perform varied developmental functions like promoting modern techniques in agriculture, promoting the industry, trade, banking functions, bridging the digital divide, etc.
  • The civil services also perform quasi-judicial services by settling disputes between the State and the citizens, in the form of tribunals, etc.
  • Assisting ministers in fulfilling their responsibilities towards the parliament and its committees.
  • Handling financial operations of the state

Problems Affecting the Civil Services Today:

It is widely recognized that the civil services have contributed to stability in terms of maintenance of peace, the conduct of fair elections, managing disasters and the preservation of the unity of the nation, providing stability and maintaining order in a vast country prone to various conflicts – ethnic, communal, regional etc. Nonetheless, various committees including the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC II) have pointed out that, there are certain criticisms with respect to the performance of the civil services, towards realizing a results-oriented government. Some of them are:

  • Lack of professionalism and poor capacity building.
  • The incentive system is ineffective and does not reward laudable and upright civil servants.
  • The rules and procedures are rigid, which doesn’t allow civil servants to exercise individual judgement and perform efficiently.
  • There is a lack of accountability and transparency procedure, with no adequate protection for whistle-blowers.
  • Political interference causes arbitrary transfers and insecurity in tenures. There has been regular political interference in the functioning of civil servants to further narrow political agenda, which undermines the public welfare at large. Fear of transfer and lure of promotion sometimes impairs judgement of civil servants making them politically compliant.
  • Rampant corruption and nepotism is common due to an erosion in ethics and values.
  • Patrimonialism (a form of governance in which all power flows directly from the leader) is prevalent.
  • Resistance to change from the civil servants themselves.