The bureaucracy consists of a group of people who are trained and dedicated to serving the country without fear or prejudice regarding the ruling political dispensation. A bureaucrat’s primary loyalty is not to his political master but to the Constitution of the country and to the service to which he belongs. In India, bureaucrats coming out of the various administrative services report through a calibrated chain of command to the cabinet secretary. The cabinet secretary serves as the head of the bureaucracy and is responsible for postings and transfers; from him this power and responsibility devolve to the chief secretaries in the provinces. This is how the system should work and has worked. There are glaring violations, of course, of the principles on which the bureaucratic system functions. In some states — Uttar Pradesh comes to mind — postings and transfers of bureaucrats have often become extensions of political patronage and punishment. A bureaucrat is rewarded or punished for his loyalty (or the absence of it) to the ruling party and not for doing his duty. In West Bengal, under the rule of the Left Front, officials were accustomed to taking orders from party bosses.
There are many aspects of the working of the bureaucracy that are not written down as law but have developed as protocol through practice and convention. These conventions are based on one common assumption: bureaucrats will remain true to their calling, their conscience and to the service. This assumption is often honoured only in the breach. Officers obey their political masters expecting rewards or to avoid being transferred to remote districts. Such fears do not apply in the case of those occupying the higher rungs of the bureaucracy — the chief secretary of a state, for example. It is therefore not too difficult for a chief secretary to politely but firmly turn down a request/order from even the chief minister if/when he feels that such an order is unjust, violative of the Constitution and the law, and/or goes against his conscience. When a chief secretary is strong enough to take such a position, the message filters down the service and provides a fillip to junior officers. This demonstration effect is important for the morale of the service. It is imperative that bureaucrats realize that in doing their duties much more is involved than the furthering of their careers.