A day after two Aam Aadmi Party MLAs allegedly assaulted Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash during a meeting at Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence on February 19, bureaucrats held an unprecedented protest in Delhi against the state’s political leadership. Since that day, bureaucrats part of the Delhi administration have boycotted all personal meetings with ministers and communicated only in writing.

The professional associations of the bureaucrats, which include the central associations of the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Forest Service, Federation of Railway Officers’ Association and IAS associations of at least nine states and three Union territories, made public statements against Kejriwal’s team. This was arguably unprecedented. The bureaucracy has never before stood up in such a concerted fashion against a state’s political executive.

But the bureaucrats could do so in Delhi without risking disciplinary action. This is because, according to the Constitution, the lieutenant governor is the administrator for the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the power to take disciplinary action against its bureaucrats ultimately lies with the Union government via the lieutenant governor. The law gives Delhi’s elected representatives few powers over the state’s civil servants and the Union government holds a veto power over any decisions that can have an impact on the state’s bureaucrats. The Delhi bureaucracy is not beholden to the state government for transfers and appraisals either, unlike in other states, where such officers report to the state government, which can transfer them at will and also has the final word on their appraisals. This unique state of affairs has led to an odd relationship between the bureaucracy and Delhi’s elected representatives.

How Delhi’s bureaucracy is regulated

The Indian Administrative Service officers of the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories cadre sit on top of the hierarchy of the Delhi bureaucracy. Next, come officers of the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service cadre.

Prakash, the senior-most bureaucrat in the Delhi government, is a 1986-batch officer of the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories cadre. Besides him, 100-odd IAS officers currently serve the Delhi government.

Delhi’s bureaucrats are appraised through a system the Union government sets the rules for. This includes an annual appraisal report through which they are marked for their performance. Each officer’s appraisal goes through a three-stage process. In all other states, the chief minister takes the final call. But in Delhi, the lieutenant governor has a veto over the state government’s opinion on the performance of an IAS officer.

“The annual report follows a three-stage process everywhere,” said a senior IAS official who did not wish to be identified. One authority makes or channelises the report, one reviews the report and one accepts the report, he said. In most states, the chanellising and reviewing authority can fluctuate between the seniormost bureaucrats, the state home minister and the chief minister. But the chief minister is the accepting authority, the one to take the final call, senior bureaucrats said.

In Delhi’s case, the chief secretary channelises the report for all subordinates, the chief minister reviews it and it is accepted by the lieutenant governor. The chief minister prepares the chief secretary’s annual report and it is both reviewed and accepted by the lieutenant governor, another senior bureaucrat said.

These appraisals are critical to an officer’s prospects of rising up in the ranks. A poor appraisal in any year can become an impediment to securing top-level jobs in the Union government, such as the posts of joint secretaries, additional secretaries and secretaries. A poor appraisal over several years can also provide reasons for the government to force an officer to take premature retirement or push for their dismissal.

In other states, the elected leadership is empowered to impose a range of disciplinary action against officers for alleged wrongdoing or dereliction of duty. But not in Delhi. Disciplinary action such as the suspension of a bureaucrat can take place in Delhi only with the approval of the lieutenant governor, who forwards the case to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, a senior bureaucrat said.

Even in the case of transfers and postings – a tool often abused by political parties of all hues when in power in various states – Delhi is the exception. The Union government, through the lieutenant governor, holds a veto on this, said the bureaucrat.

In December 2015, the Kejriwal-led government suspended two special secretary-rank officers from the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service cadre. After their colleagues protested, the Centre said that the Delhi government’s decision was null and void.

Governance affected?

The Aam Aadmi Party has consistently alleged that this anomalous relationship between Delhi’s elected leadership and its bureaucracy has hampered governance in the national capital. The party has claimed that the bureaucracy prefers to listen to the Union government and not the state government.

But several IAS officers of the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories cadre disagreed with these allegations.

A senior IAS officer said that in the last three years, Delhi’s bureaucrats have passed five resolutions demanding the intervention of the Centre in cases related to members of the fraternity. One of them relates to an attack on the District Magistrate in North East Delhi by a mob allegedly led by Udit Raj, a Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker. Another case concerns the suspension of the two special secretary-rank officials, and the latest was regarding the alleged assault on Prakash.

“The chief secretary’s assault has led to insecurity among the entire IAS community and that is why it has led to such unprecedented protests,” said another IAS officer. “Any such case would have witnessed the same response. This case should not be politicised.”

But IAS officers’ associations have not always been so proactive in showing support to other members of their fraternity. Some IAS officers point to the case of Ashok Khemka, an officer serving in Haryana, who has been transferred 51 times in his 27-year-long career. Khemka first made news in 2012, when he cancelled a land deal involving real estate giant DLF and Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

There are other cases such as that of Pradeep Kasni, an IAS officer in Haryana who retired recently. He was transferred 71 times in the course of his 34-year-long career.

One official who has alleged victimisation by a state government told Scroll.in on the condition of anonymity, “I have not seen our association defend officers when they are transferred, suspended and harassed by the political executive for doing their duty. There are enough number of cases where the association should have been as proactive as it has shown itself to be in Delhi.”

He pointed to the lack of administrative powers available to the Delhi government to discipline the state’s civil servants. He said: “I am not judging who is right or wrong in this case and what really transpired, but the eagerness the officers’ association showed to come out in support of the chief secretary was surprising.”

But the Delhi bureaucrats Scroll.in spoke to differentiated between what they claimed are “political reasons” for actions against officers and assaults.

The physical assault of an IAS officer by MLAs at a meeting in which the chief minister was present and political vendetta are two different things, a bureaucrat said. “All cases of assault on IAS officers should be condemned,” he said. “Most such cases that have emerged so far from across the country have turned out to be results of sudden rage unlike Delhi’s case which was visibly pre-mediated.”

Meanwhile, two weeks after Prakash was allegedly assaulted, Delhi’s bureaucrats continue to communicate with ministers only through written channels. On February 27, however, Prakash attended a cabinet meeting to finalise dates for the Budget session of the Assembly.