The Indian Civil Service (ICS) was the main bureaucracy nay the steel frame of British rule in India. It was started in 1855 and the first batch joined in 1856.
Though the first exam for ICS was held in 1855 in London, not a single Indian, pejoratively called natives then, was there to take the exam because either Indians did not possess the required education and grooming or did not have the means to travel to London, which also included the expenses for boarding and lodging.
Besides, Indian society was superstitious and crossing oceans was considered a bad omen, especially among Hindus. Initially, the ICS was an all-white affair, but the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore, Satyendranath Tagore, became the first Indian to qualify for the ICS in 1863.
Satyendranath was allotted Bombay Presidency Cadre and retired after more than 30 years of service. By 1871, only four Indians had joined the service. By 1883, the total number of Indian ICS were 12 and in 1915, exactly 60 years after the first competitive examination of ICS, only 63 Indians had joined the ICS.
Most Indian ICS aspirants took loans to go abroad. In the late 1890s, the philanthropist JN Tata set up a scholarship/loan fund for Indians to study abroad, which included as a condition that they give the ICS exam (by 1924, over a third of all Indian ICS officers were Tata scholars).The first Indian to stand first in one of the two parts of ICS exam held in 1904 was Gurusaday Dutt of Bengal.
In 98 years of British rule over Punjab, 11 Sikh officers were selected for the ICS. They were Sir Datar Singh (1921-Central Provinces), Hardit Singh Malik (1921-Punjab), Ram Parsad Singh Grewal alias S Pertab (1921-Punjab); Justice Shamsher Singh Dulat (1928-Punjab); Nawab Singh (1929-Punjab); Kapur Singh (1933-Punjab); MS Randhawa (1934-United Provinces, later Punjab); BS Grewal (1936-Punjab); Tarlok Singh (1937-Punjab); Kewal Singh Chaudhary (1939-Punjab) and Gian Singh Kahlon (1938-Bengal-later Punjab).
Among them three officers – Kapur Singh, Gian Singh Kahlon and Shamsher Singh Dulat – were nominated officers, whereas the others came through the competitive examination. It is pertinent to mention the S Pertab ICS became the one and only Indian DC of Lahore, the capital of Punjab in 98 years of British rule over the state. Kapur Singh became the first ICS officer to be removed from service in 1948.
Sir William Wedderburn, ICS, of the 1859 batch, who remained judge of the Bombay high court and retired as chief secretary, Bombay Presidency (present day Maharashtra, Gujarat and Sindh province of Pakistan), along with retired director general of agriculture of Government of India, AO Hume, ICS, founded the Congress party in 1885.
Hume became its first president in 1885 whereas Wedderburn served as Congress president in 1889 and 1910. The upper age limit for the ICS exam remained 24 years from 1855 to January 1943, when the last exam was held. However, the lower age limit varied from time to time.
The first person to qualify for the ICS exam from north India was Sir Shadi Lal Aggarwal of Rewari (Haryana), who was selected in 1902. It’s not well known that Sir Shadi Lal after his training in Haileybury resigned and started practicing as a barrister in Lahore. He later became a judge and chief justice of the chief’s court (later upgraded as Lahore high court on 21 March 1919).
The ICS officers were given more than 50 per cent judgeship in the state high courts and rest were generally elevated from the high court bar. At the time of Partition, there were High Courts at Patna, Madras, Nagpur, Bombay, Lahore, Allahabad and Calcutta. There were Chief Courts in Sindh and Oudh.
The ICS examination was held in London from 1855 to 1921 and from 1922 onwards the exams were held both in Allahabad and in London. The only Indian to top the ICS examination in 88 years was Kumar Padmanabha Sankara Menon who stood first in the 1921 batch.
In the 1920 batch of ICS, interestingly, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stood fourth. Bose reported for training and resigned in April 1921, joined the freedom movement and became Congress president in 1938 and 1939 and also a legendary freedom fighter.
The ICS officers’ grip over the administrative machinery and knowledge of law made their reputation and gave life to their domination over their sphere of activity. But authority and mystique percolated downwards. The glamour and the dazzle came fully buttressed by moral authority. The habit of command flowed from prestige, not the other way round. The mastery of direction was rooted in superiority proven in testing times.
At the time of India’s Independence, there were 980 ICS officers in pre-Partition India. Of these, 468 were Europeans, 352 Hindus, 2 Depressed classes, 101 Muslims, five domiciled Europeans and Anglo-Indians, 25 Indian Christians, 13 Parsis, 10 Sikhs and four other communities. Ninety-five Muslim officers opted for Pakistan and six remained in India.
The last ICS to retire as a judge of the high court/Supreme Court in India was Justice SB Capoor, ICS of 1931 batch, who retired as a judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court in 1969. There was no fixed retirement age for ICS officers.
They had to serve for 35 years from the date of arrival in India after their training in Haileybury. The tenure of ICS officers serving as judges of the high court and Supreme Court was determined by the retirement age fixed for judges.
The Governorship of a British province was the highest post an ICS officer could aspire for. There were 11 provinces during the British Rule before Independence.
The last ICS to retire in India was 1944 batch ICS of Punjab cadre Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee who retired as Cabinet Secretary on 31 March 1980. He was later Governor to Punjab in 1990. The last ICS officer to retire in Pakistan was Agha Shahi of 1944 batch who retired as foreign advisor to president in 1982.
In one of the meetings held in August 1947 in Lahore, Sir Evans Jenkins ICS (1920 batch Punjab cadre), the then Governor of Punjab, had said: “You want us to leave India.
We would leave very soon but one thing you must remember that you would not be able to maintain those vaulting standards of fairness, honesty, efficaciousness and diligence in administration, which we maintained because of the conspicuous role of the ICS and other services despite difficulties of governing and numerous odds faced by us.
Time would come when many of you would remember us with tears in your eyes and nobody to console you. After independence as the time passed by many Indians were of the considered view that he was correct in his prognostications.
The writer is an IAS officer of the Punjab Cadre and is working as Secretary to
Government of Punjab