The question of location of the Principal authority in the organisation is an important one. The head of the organisation occupies a crucial position in the system. He guides and controls the organisation and arranges the necessary resources. It is, therefore, of utmost importance for the organisations as to who exercises this authority. Two systems have evolved depending on whether the central authority is exercised by an individual or a group of persons. If this authority is vested in a single individual, it is called a bureau system and if the administrative authority vests in a group of people, it is called a Board system or a Commission system.

Criteria for deciding Appropriate System

Such criteria have been laid down by Willoughby. For adoption of bureau/board system, he laid down two criteria:

  1. Where the work to be done is essentially of an administrative character, bureau system should be used. This is so because in these situations, unity of command, quickness in decision and promptness in performance are the prime requirements. These requirements can be met better when the final authority is vested in a single individual. The additional advantage is that the cost of overhead administration remains low.
  2. Where the job requires a significant exercise of discretion in the formulation and adoption of policies and adjudication of claims, the Board or Commission system should be adopted.


Kinds of Boards

The board system of the departmental organisation is of three kinds:

(i) When the Board is Head of the Department. Instead of a secretary, the department is headed by a board of two or three people. For example, Railway Board, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Post and Telegraph Board, etc., are heads of their respective departments, viz., Railways, direct taxation and postal and telegraph services.

These administrative boards are further sub-divided into two categories:

  • The first type of board is where all members are jointly responsible for the administration of the department.
  • The second type of board is where the board is jointly responsible for policy formulation, but, for detailed administration, the responsibilities of the members of the board are divided. Prof. Willoughby has called this type of organisation as ‘Commission’, Railway Board in India operates on this system. Each member is individually responsible for the administration of a particular branch of Railways.

(ii) The second type of Board is Advisory Board. Such a board is attached to the head of the department and renders him advice on general and specific matters. The Advisory Board may be a board representing various interests, such as, the Advisory Boards attached to Railway headquarters and divisional headquarters. These boards may take various forms as consultative committee, co-ordination committee, i. e., but their basic purpose remains the same, i. e. advising the Chief Executive on matters of policy.

(iii) The third type of Board is a mixture of the two. It may be a departmental board, but, lower down in the hierarchy and not at the headquarters. It has usually no line responsibilities, but is given some quasi-legislature or quasi-judicial functions with regard to certain specific matters. A number of such Boards are found in the State Governments, e. g., Boards of Secondary Examinations which lays down syllabi and conducts examination.

Advantages of the Board System

In certain situations, the Board system has a distinct advantage over the bureau system. These are indicated below:

(i) The Board organisation is very useful where the techniques and policies to be followed have not fully crystalised. A lot of deliberations are still required to find out the right solutions. Where new and empirical methods have to be discovered a plural headship is preferable to single headship.

(ii) Board system is also of great help when the interests of two or more bodies are to be reconciled e. g., in utilisation of river waters, sometimes more than one state is involved. The usual device to run these common use water works is to set up inter-state control boards to resolve the disputes and ensure smooth functioning of the administrative system operating the headworks.

(iii) The Board system is also used when the particular activity requires exercise of wide discretion by the bureaucracy. Interests of the citizens are to be protected and at the same time the interests of the Government have also not to be sacrificed. For example, Reserve Bank of India exercises extensive control over the monetary system of the country specially on the banking sector as a whole. It is, therefore, governed by a Board of Governors. Sometimes the plural headship may protect the administrative integrity against the encroachment of the interested parties.

Problems of the Board System

These advantages notwithstanding, the system has some serious problems areas. Some of them are indicated below:

  1. Plural headship creates a great deal of confusion about responsibility. Since authority is shared between the members, it is difficult to pinpoint the responsibility of individual members. In such plural situations, everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility.
  2. The board system of headship creates weak executive and is not conducive to good and prompt work. It is time-consuming to take joint decision on matters that need immediate attention.
  3. The board system leads to lack of proper direction and control. Due to excessive discussion, the decisions are taken late. Even when they are taken, there is delay in implementation of these decisions.
  4. The quality of the membership of the Board is often not of a high order. Yesmen and Sycophants enter boards making their performance mediocre.


The words Boards and Commission are used almost inter-changeably in describing the organisations which have a plural headship. This form of organisation has been in used in Europe since middle ages to conduct public affairs. Although the Commission form of administration is no longer very much favoured in Europe, it is still being used in USA extensively. In fact, the number and variety of commissions has been going up in USA. In India also Boards and Commissions have been set up to look after a variety of activities.

The Boards and Commissions in India can be divided into three categories on the basis of their origin:

The commissions created by Constitution of India. They are five in number.

  1. Finance Commission
  2. Election Commission
  3. Union Public Service Commission
  4. The Backward Classes Commission
  5. The Official Language Commission

They have some common factors. The numbers are appointed by the President of India and cannot be removed from office except by a special procedure. Their reports are placed on the table of each House of the Parliament. They enjoy greatest possible autonomy.

(i) The Boards and Commissions set up by Acts of parliament - such Boards/Commissions are specially created by the Parliament to look after some specific tasks. Some of these Boards/Commissions are – the University Grants Commission, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, the Flood Control Board, the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the Railways Boards etc. These bodies are created under Acts/Statute of the Parliament and are called statutory boards/ commissions. They work under the general administrative control of the Ministries but, are free from the cumbersome departmental rules and procedures. Most of these Boards/Commissions are in the form of heads of the departments. The working of this type of plural headship and its advantages and disadvantages have been discussed in detail earlier and need not be repeated here.

(ii) In the third category are the Commissions/Boards created by the resolutions of the Government for specified periods of times and their existence depends upon the will of the Ministry concerned. They are attached to the Ministries and are called Attached Boards.


DO Read – Independent Regulatory Commission

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