Jammu: Dheeraj Gupta, an IITian and naturally a bureaucrat of ‘engineering temperaments’, who completes thirty years in Indian Administrative Service this year has on this day -January 30, 2023 -reached a unique achievement in Jammu and Kashmir, the erstwhile state of his erstwhile cadre.
In the superior bureaucracy of Jammu and Kashmir, Gupta is possibly the last continuing link between the State and Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir who has seen the monumental transition from one place -the window of his office on second floor of Civil Secretariat in Jammu even as he is believed to be the only officer who spends equal time in Srinagar despite Darbar Move being called off.
Since the fall of Mehbooba Mufti government on June 19, 2018, Jammu and Kashmir has seen changes at all levels of administration at an industrial scale. With two Governors and two Lieutenant Governors changing the top executive command in a short span of 56 months, transfers at the senior bureaucratic level have been rampant. Those who were there at the helm in last stages of the State are nowhere to be seen now as the Union Territory takes roots.
However, a handful of officers have enjoyed the unique privilege of extraordinary stability, and Dheeraj Gupta is one among them.
Exactly four years ago, on January 30, 2019, when the General Administration Department issued orders of posting of 1993 batch IAS officer, Dheeraj Gupta, as Principal Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jammu and Kashmir was a State under executive and constitutional headship of Satya Pal Malik as Governor.
Few months later, the State was broken down into two entities, and downgraded to Union Territory, the Governor’s position was replaced by the Lieutenant Governor, the first was replaced by another in nine months. These four years have seen the bureaucracy going through a revolving door, but a few, including Gupta, have stayed on enjoying trust all setups.
In January 2019, the other key positions in top bureaucracy were held in the following order: B.V.R. Subrahmanyam as the Chief Secretary, Umang Narula as Principal Secretary to the Governor, Navin Chowdhay as Principal Secretary in Finance Department, R.K. Goyal as Principal Secretary Home Department, Shaleen Kabra as Principal Secretary Industries and Commerce Department, Pawan Kotwal as Financial Commissioner Revenue, Hilal Ahmed Parray was the Secretary in General Administration Department and Shailendra Kumar was the Chief Electoral Officer.
Here is a look at each of the above, since 2019: B.V.R. was moved to the Center in May 2021 and retired as Secretary Commerce in September 2022; Umang Narula was posted out to Ladakh in October 2019; Navin Chowdhary, currently under orders of transfer to Mizoram since May 2022, was replaced by Arun Mehta as Principal Secretary Finance who was subsequently replaced at Atal Dulloo who was replaced by Vivek Bharadwaj in August 2021, and the charge is now back with Mehta who is also the Chief Secretary; Goyal was replaced by Shaleen Kabra who presided the Home Department for three years before being again succeeded by Goyal in February 2022; from Shaleen Kabra the Industries and Commerce Department went to Manoj Dwivedi, then Ranjan Prakash Thakur, then Vivek Bharadwaj and currently with Prashant Goyal; Pawan Kotwal was posted out to Ladakh in March 2021; the GAD has fourth Secretary since Hilal Parray and the Election Commission is headless after pathbreaking exercise of delimitation.
Even as transfers and postings are a normal administrative exigencies which all senior officers accept with grace and dignity as part of their career life, in past five years Jammu and Kashmir has seen unprecedented reshuffles surpassing the even coalition norms since 2002.
While a number of senior officers departed from the original cadre in a number of directions, such as Central deputation, UT of Ladakh and other AGMUT postings, only seven of the 20 senior-most IAS officers have got to stay on in Jammu and Kashmir since 2019. These officers are: Arun Kumar Mehta, Atal Dulloo, Shaleen Kabra, Dheeraj Gupta, Asghar Samoon, Sarita Chauhan and Sanjeev Verma.
Interestingly, on this Dheeraj Gupta registers the rare distinction of being the only one among all 78 IAS officers to have been in the same department and same position for four years -Principal Secretary, Housing and Urban Development Department since January 30, 2019.
Colleagues who have worked closely with Gupta describe him as a politically disconnected workaholic professional who keeps deeply absorbed in his departmental affairs. With Smart City and a number of other rejuvenation, mobility and infrastructure projects under way shaking up the normal to build new and modern urban environment, Gupta, his colleagues claim, listens to the visitors politely but makes but makes his subordinates to listen to him carefully.
As Gupta holds the rare distinction of holding a single department for four years while Jammu and Kashmir went through historic constitutional, political and administration transition, there are a number of officers in J&K Administrative Service who have been holding on the current positions for even more years.
Anoo Malhotra, currently the Director General, Industries and Commerce Department in Jammu has been holding the office since December 2018. She was recently elevated to DG but retained at the same post. She was earlier in the Finance Department. Malhotra enjoys the reputation of a good administrator, particularly in her dealings with the business community.
KAS officers Sheikh Fayyaz Ahmed, the Commissioner and Secretary in Floriculture Department is holding office since July 2019, and similarly, Manzoor Ahmed is Director General, Sericulture, since October 2019, while Pawan Singh Rathore is Special Secretary in Hospital and Protocol Department since December 2019:
Labour Commissioner Abdul Rashid War and Director Floriculture, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmed Rather are among a number of JKAS officers who have been holding offices for close to four years.
Rare of the rarest: Mukhtar Ahmed, a KAS officer of 1999 batch, has this month completed seven years at the same post. He was posted Secretary to the Gujjar and Bakerwal Advisor Board in January 2016. The Board ceased to exist with the constitutional transition of August 2019, but Ahmed continued to be in the same post. Even as the Government has not announced abolition of the Board but the same has not been functional since 2019.
Unlike the frequently reshuffled IAS officers, their JKAS counterparts have seen better stability of postings these years. Of the 100 senior-most JKAS officers, as many as 38 are holding their current postings for nearly or little more than two years, 12 for nearly three years and eight officers have been in the current offices for close to more than four years.