Civil Service Examination- The Evolution And History

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Civil Service Examination (CSE) is one of the highest competitive examinations in India. The Union Public Service Commission ( UPSC) conducts the CSE for the recruitment of higher administrative officers. 

The CSE exam is supervised in three phases- preliminary examination, main examination followed by an interview. 

The preliminary exam contains two objective types of paper (General studies paper 1, General studies paper 2) which is also called the “ Civil Service Aptitude Test”. 

The main exam consists of nine subjective papers among which two papers are qualifier papers and from the remaining 7 papers the marks are evaluated. The last interview round is a personality test. 

So this was the preface of the civil service exam but there is a lot more to know about CSE. When it was first conducted? In which era it was conducted? Who was the first person to clear the exam? Let’s head into the writing to know more. 

History Of CSE

Most people have this misconception that “civil service” was introduced in India by the Britishers but according to many sources, civil service existed during the “Mauryan empire” (320-185 BCE) too. 

Kautilya, who wrote the great ‘ARTHASASTRA’ was the first person to write about civil services. Before the Mauryan era, during the time of “Ramayana” and “Mahabharat,” the decentralization of the administration was observed.

Many authorities helped the king to run a proper, well-functioning administration.

However, during the Mauryan era, Kautilya introduced a recruitment system to appoint administrators which were very reformative during that time.

After the Mauryan era, the Gupta era (3rd century CE to 543 CE) also had the civil service recruitment system for better administration.

Nonetheless, during the Mughal period (1526 – 1857)  the civil service system became one of the most important administrative systems. 

It was called the “Mansabdari system” which was introduced by Akbar in 1571 with the help of Sahabaz khan.  It was initially implemented by Babur and Humayun but Akbar was the one who reformed it as the basis of civil and military administration.  

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During The British Era

In 1786, Lord Cornwallis, the governor-general, introduced the term and the system of civil service in a very systematic manner, for which he is called the “father of civil services in India”. 

He divided the civil services post into two categories- covenanted civil services and uncovenanted civil services. In the first category, mostly higher European candidates were appointed.

And in the second category mostly Indian candidates were appointed but in a lower rank.

The nature of work, pay scale, and appointing authority were different in these two categories. The candidates who were appointed by the “East-India company” for the civil service were directly nominated by the company.

And they didn’t have to compete for the examination. 

This system was called “The patronage system”. After recruitment, they were trained in London’s Hailey bury college.

In 1853 Lord Macaulay introduced a bill in which the ‘Modern civil services’ charter Act 1853 was passed.

The government replaced the “patronage system” with a “merit-based system” in which an open competitive exam was being held to recruit the civil servants. 

In 1854, a special civil service commission was formed in London. From 1885, competitive exams started in England for which the minimum age of the candidates was 18 years and the maximum age was 23 years. 

But the fun fact is that the Britishers were very cunning; they only held this exam in London and the syllabus of the examination was based on the European curriculum. So that no Indian could pass the examination.

But as they say, “ when there is a will, there is a way”, in 1864, Satyendra Nath Tagore, elder brother of Rabindra Nath Tagore became the first Indian to clear the civil service examination. 

Revolt Of 1857

After The “ Revolt of 1857” popularly known as “sepoy mutiny” or “ the first war of independence”, the British crown took away all the power from the East India Company. And India came under the rule of the British Empire. 

In 1885, Indian National Congress ( INC) was formed and they demanded major changes in the civil service examinations. They demanded to increase the age limit and to conduct the examination in India. 

To consider these demands, the British Indian government established a commission, known as the ‘Aitchison Committee’ in 1886, chaired by ‘Sir Charles Aitchison’. The commission recommended the recruitment of more Indians to civil services. 

This commission also removed the two categories of civil services. And established three new categories- imperial services, provincial services, and subordinate services. In imperial service, the maximum number of recruits were Britishers.

However, after the commencement of the Government of India act,1919 this merit system was removed. And a public service announcement commission was formed in India that would examine the country. 

According to this act, imperial service was divided into two parts- All India Services and Central Services. The central services were controlled by the central government. 

In 1912, the Islington commission was created and it was chaired by Lord Islington. He suggested that 25% of the highest posts should be filled by Indians. And the recruitment of the candidates should partly be done in England and India.  

Since 1922 ICE Exams were held in India and London. The civil service commission was controlling the examination in London while there was a special “federal public commission” established in India.

In 1924, the LEE commission was formed and it proposed the institution of public service commission”(1st Oct 1926). This commission was chaired by “sir. Ross Barker”. 

In 1935, a “Federal Public Service Commission” was founded which was named the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) after Independence. 


Civil service examination or UPSC has been very prevalent among students in recent times. Several students compete for this exam while the exams are equally tough and demanding for them. So, this was a brief account of the “evolution and history” of the civil service examination.



Aniket Mandal

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