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What is Bureaucracy? What are its origins?

  • The term or word bureaucracy has two parts-one is bureau which means an office transacting particular business or a government department.
  • Crazy denotes a particular form of government. Hence bureaucracy implies a system of gov­ernment in which most of the decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives. So bureaucracy is a form of government run or managed by some officers.
  • It is a system of administration characterized by
  • clear hierarchy of authority,
  • rigid division of labor,
  • written and inflexible rules, regulations, and procedures, and
  • impersonal relationships.
  • At present bureaucrats are known in different names like permanent executive, non- political executive, civil servants, public servants, officialdom, departmental government etc.
  • The concept of bureaucracy was developed by a social scientist, Max Weber. Max Weber {1864-1920} was a German Sociologist.
  • The theory of bureaucracy is based upon the nature of authority relationships in organisation. It is concerned with how organizations actually operate rather than with how they should function.
  • The origin of bureaucracy can be traced in Industrial Revolution (started in Europe during 18th Century) and subsequently, in colonialism.
  • In earlier times, the kings were vested with supreme power. During the Industrial Revolution, a need for a specialized class of administrators was felt.
  • The colonial power felt the dire necessity of good administrators who must also be trained.
  • Colonialism thus may be called a potential source of bureaucracy.
  • The colonial power thought that there must exist an exclusive group of persons for managing primarily political or admin­istration and, secondarily, other functions.
  • In this way a special class with special power and ability was created for the proper management of a capitalist and colonial state.
  • Hence bureaucracy or a special administrative class was produced by Industrial Revolution and the consequences that it created.

What is the need/rationale of Bureaucracy?

  • The development of modern state, the growth of democratic institutions, the extension of states responsibilities into social, and economic spheres and the growing complexity of the administrative work made it essential for the growth of a professional bureaucracy.
  • Bureaucrats are an army of experts and efficient public servants who are indispensable in every political system today.
  • Modern governments cannot manage and run the machinery of government without the assistance of these competent officials.

What are the chief characteristics of Bureaucracy?

  • Division of Labour: The work of the department or organisation is divided among the employees in such a way that each employee has only a certain part of the work to perform. In this way, the employee repeat­edly performs certain job and becomes efficient at it.
  • Hierarchy: In every bureaucracy, there is a hierarchy or chain of com­mand, where officials at lower levels are supervised by those at higher levels. The commands or orders of superiors have to be followed by sub­ordinates.
  • Written Documents: The management of the organisation is based upon written documents or files. Since nothing concerning the office is pri­vate, every transaction, decision, and order is recorded which help in efficient decision making in future.
  • Rules: Management follows a set of rules which are made known to all employees of the organisation. Rules are equally applicable to everyone and they prevent any type of arbitrariness.
  • Salaries: Salaries are fixed for employees and there is a provision for pension, Provident Fund to take care of the employee when he retires from service.
  • Impersonality: The officials are expected to carry out their duties with­out allowing themselves to be influenced by their personal likes and dis­likes. The employee must treat all clients equally.
  • Rationality: Bureaucracy represents a rational form of organisation. Decisions are taken on strict evidence and avoid any type of irrationality.
  • Neutrality: Bureaucracy serves all political parties in power without being biased. It has only committed to work and duty and not to any Party ideology.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Bureaucracy?


  • The rules and procedures are decided for every work it leads to, consistency in employee behaviour. Since employees are bound to follow the rules etc., the management process becomes easy.
  • The duties and responsibilities of each job are clearly defined there is no question of overlapping or conflicting job duties.
  • The selection process and promotion procedures are based on merit and expertise. It assists in putting right persons on right jobs. There is optimum utilisation of human resources.
  • The division of labour assists workers in becoming experts in their jobs. The performance of employees improves considerably.
  • The enterprise does not suffer when some persons leave it. If one person leaves then some other occupies that place and the work does not suffer.


  • This system suffers from too much of red tape and paper work.
  • The employees do not develop belongingness to the organisation.
  • The excessive reliance on rules and regulations and adherence to these policies inhibit initiative and growth of the employees. They are treated like machines and not like individuals. There is neglect of human factor.
  • The employees become so used to the system, they resist to any change and introduction of new techniques of operations.

How bureaucracy contributes to inefficiency in administration?

  • Bureaucracy has been criticised because of its inefficiency and has been termed as a symbol of inefficiency.
  • There are many dis-functional aspects of bureaucracy which is referred to as bureau pathology.
  • Rules are normally provided for guidelines but often they become source of inefficiency because of too much emphasis on rules, their misuse, and people’s apathy from rules.
  • Rigid organisational hierarchy works against efficiency. It overemphasizes superior- subordinate relationships unnecessarily which is detrimental to congenial organisational climate.
  • In dealing with people, total impersonal approach cannot be adopted because people have feelings, emotions and sentiments which affect decision. Thus, people cannot work totally according to rules and prescriptions.

What are the sources of authority as per Weber?

Max Weber distinguishes three types of authority: Traditional authority, Rational-legal authority and Charismatic authority.

  1. Traditional authority

This type of authority rests on an established belief that leaders have a traditional and legitimate right to exercise authority, where different traditional circumstances enable and legitimize those in command to exercise authority.

This traditional authority gives rise to patrimonial systems like e.g. patriarchal and feudalistic systems and societies. These systems are however dependent upon the followers’ acceptance of this authority, and that the followers see this type of authority as legitimate. E.g. Elders’ authority in India.

  1. Rational-legal authority

This type of authority rests on the belief in the “legality” of formal rules and hierarchies, and in the right of those elevated in the hierarchy to posses authority and issue commands.

This type of authority is often seen as legitimate in bureaucratic systems, which enables impersonal, specific and formal structures of modern companies. People will hence find this type of authority legitimate, if the authority is distributed to leaders based on e.g. rationality and capability. E.g. Bureaucrats

  1. Charismatic authority

This type of authority rests on the belief in an exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual, and on the normative patterns or orders revealed and issued by him or her.

Charismatic leaders are often seen as legitimate in times of crisis or change when extraordinary leadership is called for, and when this extraordinary leadership is recognized in the specific authorial figure by followers. E.g. Gandhi ji, Nelson Mandela

According to Max Weber, only the traditional and rational-legal types of authority relationships are stable.

What are the reforms required in Indian Civil Services?

  1. The development work needs some flexibility from a strict observance of rigid rules and regulations. Rigid rule bound bureaucracies should be changed into flexible and action-oriented.
  2. Reforms are required in the field of recruitment of civil servants so that right people could be recruited who can ensure smooth functioning of democracy.
  3. Training of civil servants should be able to bring about behavioural and attitudinal changes.
  4. Administrative procedures, rules and regulations need to be simplified so that red tapism could be minimized; decentralization of authority and collegiate decision making; de-emphasis of hierarchy in the administrative structure
  5. Adoption of modern management techniques such as management by objectives; elimination of corruption so as to secure clean, honest, impartial and efficient administration; creation of new work culture and encouraging creativity.

What are the recommendations of the 2nd ARC w.r.t. Civil Services in India?

It is widely recognised 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 there are certain concerns about the performance of the civil service in the context of realizing a results-oriented government. Some of them are:

  1. It has been pointed out that the Civil Service in India is more concerned with the internal processes than with results.
  2. The systemic rigidities, needless complexities and over-centralization in the policy and management structures within which the civil service functions are too complex and often too constraining.
  3. The structures are based on hierarchies and there are a large number of veto points to be negotiated for a decision to eventually emerge.
  4. To compound it, the size and the number of ministries and departments have both overloaded the decision-making system and diminished the capacities of the individual civil servants to fulfill their operational responsibilities.
  5. Rapid and fundamental changes are taking place in the country in terms of rapid economic growth, urbanization, environmental degradation, technological change and increased local awareness and identity. The response time to adapt to these changes is much shorter than it used to be. As instruments of public service, civil servants have to be ready to manage such change.
  6. On the other hand, the perception is that they resist change as they are wedded to their privileges and prospects and thereby have become ends in themselves.
  7. The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution have brought about a major change. Rural and urban local governments have to be enabled to become institutions of self government. To bring this about, the existing system of administration at the district level has to undergo fundamental changes. Though sixteen years have passed, the progress remains very slow and local governments are ‘local’ only in ‘form’ but are ‘central and state in content’.
  8. With the passage of time, the role of civil society organisations, in governance, has increased with demands for better governance. The same can be said of the private sector, which is increasingly providing services in several areas, which hitherto were the exclusive preserve of the public sector. Consequently, civil servants should view civil society organisations and the private sector as partners in the process of the country’s governance.
  9. There is need to shift from pre-eminence of governance to effective governance with a focus on decentralization and citizen-centricity.

Domain specific recommendations of recent committees:

On Recruitment

  1. The Civil Services Examination Review Committee, 2001 (chaired by Professor Yoginder K. Alagh) favored testing the candidates in a common subject rather than on optional subjects.
  2. The Committee on Civil Service Reforms (Hota Committee Report, 2004) recommended that aptitude and leadership tests may be introduced for selection, and that probationers may be allowed one month’s time after commencement of training to exercise their option for Services.

On Training

  1. The Committee to Review In-Service Training of IAS officers, (Yugandhar Committee, 2003) recommended the need for three mid-career training programmes in the 12th, 20th and 28th years of service. Trainings at these 3 stages was suggested as there is a “major shift” in the nature of work of the officer, at these stages of their career.

On Domain Expertise

  1. The first ARC classified higher civil service posts into two categories: posts in the field, and (b) posts at headquarters.
  2. The field posts were held by the members of the ‘functional’ services which included not only the various engineering services but also services such as accounts and income tax. The first ARC noted that the only service that was not functional but occupied most of the higher posts in the civil services was the IAS. The first ARC recommended that the IAS should be converted into a functional service.
  3. Consistent with its philosophy of organizing the administrative machinery along functional lines and inducting talent from all sources, the ARC recommended eight broad areas of specialization: Economic Administration; Industrial Administration; Agricultural and Rural Development Administration; Social and Educational Administration; Personnel Administration; Financial Administration; Defence Administration and Internal Security Planning.
  4. The Report of the Group constituted to Review the System of Performance Appraisal, Promotion, Empanelment and Placement for the All India Services and other Group ‘A’ Services (Surinder Nath Committee Report, 2003) suggested the following 11 domains – Agriculture and Rural Development; Social Sectors (Education, Health, Tribal Welfare, etc.); Culture and Information; Natural Resources Management including Environment (green side); Energy and Environment (brown side); Communication Systems and Connectivity Infrastructure; Public Finance and Finance Management; Industry and Trade; Domestic Affairs and Defence; Housing and Urban Affairs; Personnel and General Administration. The Committee suggested that officers may be assigned to a maximum of three domains out of the eleven listed.
  5. The Hota Committee on Civil Services Reforms, 2004, had recommended that domain assignment should be introduced for civil servants to encourage acquisition of skills, professional excellence and career planning.

On Efficiency

There has been a succession of Committees that were asked to recommend measures for increasing the efficiency of the civil services.

  1. The Appleby Report(1953) contained recommendations relating to the establishment of O&M machinery and an Institute of Public Administration. These two recommendations were implemented by Government.
  2. The Fifth Central Pay Commission (2000) stressed upon the need to optimise the size of the government machinery.
  3. The Expenditure Reforms Commission(2001) emphasised on a drastic downsizing of the government staff strength for securing modern and professional governance and also reducing the increasing salary bill of the Government of India.
  4. The Committee on Civil Services Reforms (Hota Committee, 2004) emphasised the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform Government by making it more accessible, effective and accountable. It stressed on the need to recognise that e-governance is about discarding old procedures and transforming the process of decision making and that technology is merely a tool and a catalyst for such transformations.

On Accountability

  1. The Committee on Prevention of Corruption (Santhanam Committee) made a range of recommendations to fight the menace of corruption. It recommended the constitution of the Central Vigilance Commission, and administrative vigilance divisions in all Departments and major organizations of the Government. Changes were also suggested in Article 311 of the Constitution of India for conducting disciplinary proceedings against government servants. It was also recommended that offering of bribes should be made a substantive offence.
  2. The first ARC recommended that the departments and organizations which were in direct charge of development programmes should introduce performance budgeting. The ARC also recommended the establishment of two special institutions, the Lok Pal to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of Ministers and Secretaries to the government at the Centre and the Lok Ayuktas to deal with such complaints in States.
  3. The Hota Committee recommended that Sections 13 (1) (d) and 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure may be amended to protect honest civil servants from malicious prosecution and harassment. It also recommended that a Code of Ethics should be drawn up for civil servants incorporating the core values of integrity, merit and excellence in public service. Another recommendation of the Hota Committee was that each department should lay down and benchmark services to be delivered, methods of grievance redressal and public evaluation of performance. It also recommended that a Model Code of Governance should be drawn up benchmarking the standards of governance to be made available to the citizens.
  4. The Report of the Group constituted to review the system of Performance Appraisal, Promotion, Empanelment and Placement of the AIS and Other Services (Surinder Nath Committee, 2003) recommended that – performance appraisal should be primarily used for the overall development of an officer and for his/her placement in an area where his/her abilities and potential can be best used.
  5. Only those who can demonstrate a credible record of actual performance and possess the necessary knowledge and skills required for higher responsibilities should be promoted. There is no benefit in retaining officers who lack demonstrated competence, or who are unqualified, or of doubtful moral or financial integrity or who are in unacceptably poor health.
  6. The Hota Committee on Civil Services Reforms, 2004, recommended replacing the ACR with a system of performance assessment in which greater emphasis is placed on objective assessment against agreed work plans.

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Questions for you:

  1. What is likely impact of introducing lateral entry in Indian Administrative Services by the recent government?
  2. What are the reforms required in Indian Bureaucracy in order to tackle the challenges of corruption?
  3. What is the link between Bureaucracy and Good Governance?

Chiseled and crafted by G.Rajput sir