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Islington Commission, 1912


Islington Commission, 1912 a Royal Commission formed to recommend reforms in the Public Service of British India with Lord Islington as its chairman. A ten member commission, which included three Indians, was given the task of examining the Indian demand to increase the number of Indians in the Higher Civil Services and, most importantly, holding simultaneous examination in India. The commission was guided by three principal considerations: firstly, to maintain high standards of civil administration in British India; secondly, to safeguard the paramount interest of British rule; and thirdly, to satisfy the reasonable aspirations of Indians and promote friendly relations between Indians and Europeans for better governance. The commission completed its report in 1915, but owing to the outbreak of the First World War, the report was not published until 1917.

The commission examined several important issues and made a number of recommendations in regard to the Higher Civil Services. It suggested that the services were to be reorganised into higher and lower branches on the basis of work and not on the basis of race or salary and that no other artificial distinction should be maintained. Excepting the case of ICS, all other civil servants, once promoted from a lower to a higher service, should enjoy equal benefits and should be treated identically with those directly recruited and should be considered as full members of the service. As regards the practice of appointing army officers to perform civil duties, the committee suggested its discontinuance, except in a few departments, such as medical, public works, railway etc. The commission, however, approved the existing practice of employment of ICS officers in higher administrative posts for the sake of efficiency, even in special departments like post office, salt, finance, customs etc.

The Civil Services were divided into four categories- Imperial, Central, Provincial and Subordinate. The existing problems of recruitment to various services from the point of view of place, fixation of salary, and proportion of Indians were examined. With regard to the place of the appointment the commission divided Higher Services into four groups. In the first group were the services which were to be recruited exclusively in British India. In the second were the Indian Civil Service and Indian Police Service. Their members were to be recruited primarily in Britain, though some recruitment would be made in India for the first time. In the third group were services such as education, medical, public works, engineering etc, and these should be recruited partly in Britain and partly in India 'on the grounds of policy and efficiency'. The fourth group included certain scientific and technical services. These were to be recruited both in Britain and India. The commission expected that by these methods the Indianisation process would increase substantially and greater Indian participation in the various branches of the higher services would be ensured.

The commission, however, did not support the Indian demand for holding examinations simultaneously in India. It rejected it on specific grounds like uneven development of quality education among the various sections, communities and provinces of India. Moreover, the commission was more concerned about maintaining the British character of administration and the efficiency and integrity of the administration.

Regarding the Indian demand for open competition, the commission argued that with the improvement of education the competitive examination system could be adopted with great advantage in the future. It did not support the idea of a sudden shift from nomination to competition and made some recommendations towards Indianisation of Higher Civil Services. It suggested that 75% of the ICS officers should be recruited in England by open competition and the remaining 25% were to be filled in India by nomination and on due representations of various communities. The commission viewed this system could help Indians to occupy larger number of higher posts than before. However, it was of the opinion that the time was not yet ripe for the adoption of open competition in India. Instead, it opted for the nomination system although most Indian leaders apprehended that the nomination system might give rise to various abuses and corruption.

The commission, however, argued that the nomination system could be carried out impartially given adequate protection against its probable abuses. They held that the impartiality of the selection agency was to be established beyond any doubt. To attract better and more candidates, adequate publicity should be given to the vacancies to be filled in. The credentials of candidates were to be submitted to expert scrutiny. No outside pressure was to be allowed on the authorities responsible for making the choice. All recruits would have to fulfill minimum educational qualifications. Nominations were to be carried out with the help of a selection committee composed of officials and non-officials. All potential candidates would be interviewed and recruited on the basis of merit.

In addition, the commission examined the problem of the salary structure of various categories of civil servants and made specific recommendations about the rates of salary to be drawn by Europeans and statutory Indian officers. In view of their higher standard of living and also to attract Englishmen to the services it suggested higher rates of pay for Europeans than for Indians for the same service. The services recruited wholly in India were to carry equal salaries in accordance with Indian conditions. The commission, however, admitted that the advantages of offering equal pay to all officers who did the same work were obvious. In certain services no distinction in salary was to be made on racial grounds. Indian candidates recruited in Europe were entitled to the same benefits as that of the Europeans. In short, revision of pay scale was to take place on the basis not only on the general rise in prices but also on racial grounds. Indians, of course, resented racial discrimination introduced into the salary structure and wanted equal pay for equal work.

The commission also made recommendations for the revision of the other terms and conditions of service. It simplified rules and rationalised allowances of different categories of services. It suggested separate leave rules for Europeans and Indians. The pension rules were also liberalised.

However, the recommendation of the commission regarding larger Indian representation in higher service fell short of Indian expectation. On the whole, Indian public opinion and Indian leaders, both Hindus and Muslims, were not satisfied with many of the recommendations of the commission. They reacted sharply against it and regarded it as unjust, economically unsound, and politically dangerous. Indeed, the commission's report failed to bring about any radical change in the attitude of British Indian government towards Indianisation of Higher Services and in increasing the share of Indians in the administration.

The recommendations of the report became defunct in 1918, when the montagu-chelmsford report proposed Indian appointment to one-third of the posts and action was taken in favour of holding simultaneous ISC examination in London and New Delhi in 1922. [ABM Mahmood]