Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit: District Administration since Independence: Changing role of the Collector

Sample Material of Public Administration Study Kit (Paper - II)

District Administration since Independence: Changing role of the Collector

The district is the basic unit of administration below State level in India. A district is placed under the charge of a district officer called the district collector or Deputy Commissioner, the king-pins of our administration. The district is also the unit of administration for the various other Government departments like police, industries, agriculture, education, medical and health, public-health, electricity, etc. However, the position of the collector is different from that of the officers of other departments functioning in the district. He is supposed to be the Chief representative of the Government in the district. His office corresponds directly with the government. He performs numerous functions which we will discuss below.

Evolution of the Office of Collector

The present institution of the Collector may be directly derived from the East India Company got the diwani rights and decided to take upon themselves the administration of revenue. At the same time, they decided that the collector is to supervise the revenue collection and to preside over the courts. At that time revenue collection was a major and very important function, hence, the collector came to occupy a very important position. In 1872 Sir George Campbell, at that time, Lt. Governor of Bengal said that the Collector is the general controlling authority over all the Departments in the district. He said the District Magistrate/Collector should be supreme in his area, except in matters of courts of justice.

After independence, the circumstances changed and the functions and powers & position of the collector also changed. Democracy and specialisation in post-independence period had affected the powers and prestige of the District Officer. The separation of judiciary from executive and advent of Panchayati Raj and growing resentment of technical departments and their officers towards the collector’s dominant position in the district have some of the potent factors which have adversely affected the position of the Collector. But he is still a chief coordinator of all the functionaries in the district and representative of the Government as a whole at the district level. The District officer is known as Collector in Rajasthan, Gujarat, M.P., Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, etc. In Punjab, Haryana, Assam, J & K and Karnataka the Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate (DM) in U.P. and West Bengal is the head of district administration. He is a generalist. IAS Officer direct recruit or a promote from State Civil Service. He performs more undefined than defined functions. Thus, due to the multifarious nature of his functions he is called the pivot of the district administration.

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The Collector: Appointment and Service Conditions

Today the District Collector is normally a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). As the IAS consist of direct recruits and promotes from State Civil Services, these two sub-groups constitute the two natural sources from which the District Collectors are drawn. The Collector is a senior level IAS officer, generally of 6 to 10 years seniority if he is directly recruited incumbent. The post of District Collector is also occupied by the officers who were originally recruited up to the Stage Civil Services and who have since been promoted to the IAS.

The Fifth Central Pay Commission, in its report submitted in January 1997 specifically observed about posting of district collectors as, “In many states, the post of District Collector is not given the necessary importance, with the result that very young IAS officers get posted to these crucial assignments. As district Collectors are supposed to co-ordinate the functioning of all district officers, some of whom may be much more experienced, it is recommended that no IAS officer should be posted as a District Collector unless he has completed nine years of service.”

Functions of District Collector

The District Collector is the ultimate boss of the district, responsible for every single event which happens in his jurisdictional area. Inspite of the size of the districts, attendant lethargy and complexity and corruption, the institution of the District Collector is one of the most powerful ones in the country. Even today, despite Panchayati Raj and the Mandal, the Collector is still perceived as being above petty politics, and truly for the people. First we will discuss his most important functions, namely, Land Revenue, Law and Order and Developmental functions and others.

Land Revenue

The office of Collector was created to collect revenue. The first Governor-General of India. Warren Hastings had created the office for the dual purpose of collecting revenue and dispensing justice. He is the head of the revenue department of the district. In this capacity he exercises the power of general supervision and control of the land records and their staff. His functions concerning land revenue are of several types such as collection of land revenue, canal dues and other Government dues; distribution of ‘taccavi' loans and recovery of these dues; distribution distress ‘taccavi' due to losses to crops caused by natural calamities/disasters; payment of ‘Zamindari' abolition compensation and rehabilitation grant; relief to the fire sufferers, assessment of loss of crops due to floods, drought or locusts in the harvest season for recommendation of, relief given to the affected farmers, control over land records, land acquisition and all matters relating to land records; inspection of mutation work, hearing of appeals against the orders of the lower consolidation authorities. relief measures in cases of scarcity conditions caused by natural calamities like fire, drought, flood, water logging and excessive rainsm etc; assessment and realisation of agricultural tax; collecting and furnishing multifarious agrarian statistics concerning rain fall, crops, etc. supervision of the Treasury and Subtreasuries. enforcement of Stamp Act; ensuring proper administration of land and proper sale and mortgages of land; submission of periodical reports to higher authorities and seeing that the rights in land are held and enjoyed and passed from one party to another according to law in a peaceful manner. For the proper performance of revenue functions the collector is assisted by other revenue officers. The district is divided into sub-divisions. tehsils, Kanungo circle and patwari circles; and the officer mcharge of these-are Six), Tehsildar, Kanungo, Patwari and Village headman. Patel of
Chowkidar to assist the collector.

After independence and particularly after 1967 when in many states opposition parties captured power, they announced the abolition of land revenue3 because now it forms a very small part of the total revenue of the State. This has lessened the importance of revenue collection work of the collector. But, the importance of land records has not reduced at all, rather it became a necessity to solve ownership problems.

Maintenance of Law and Order

At the district level, according to the Police Act 1860, and the Police Regulations of different States police functions are under the overall supervision and control of the District Magistrate. He is responsible for maintenance of law and order. The district police under the Superintendent of Police is his main instrument to maintain law and order. As a district magistrate he promulgates orders if there is any danger of breach of peace and public order. He can inspect police station and ask for any information, record, statement and register dealing with crime. He grants licences for explosives and fire arms. He can order enquiry into an accident caused by explosion; can also issue warrants for the arrest of a suspected offender on apprehension of breach of peace a person may be detained by him. In 1993 thousands of workers of BJP were arrested by the district administration to prevent them from participating in the rally at Boat club New Delhi.

In serious cases of breach of peace, DM can seek the assistance of Special Armed Forces or the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) maintain Peace. Home Guards can also be called at a short notice in case of need. In case of widespread disturbances CRPF battalions may be requisitioned by him, Central government, can ask the other State Governments to send their armed forces. He may impose curfew in a particular area if situation demands. He has power to dispense unlawful assemblies and issue orders under Section 144 of Cr. P.C.

In case the civil police is not able to control the law and order situation the D.M. can seek the assistance of the army. The Criminal Procedure Code provides power to the DM to order the Military officers to assist in the maintenance of law and order. There are liaison officers in the army from whom assistance can be sought in times of need. The DM has to hand over the situation to the army which then tackles it on its own under their own command and commanders. It means that army can open fire on its own without seeking the approval of the Magistrate in each case. If at any time DM feels that the situation is under control, he can ask the army to withdraw.

The general consensus is that the army should be called only in extreme situations to assist civil authorities in the maintenance of law and order and as far as possible state police and the central paramilitary forces should control the situation.

The collector conducts inspection of jail, disposes the cases of undertrial prisoners, grants superior class to prisoners, orders premature release of prisoners, release of prisoners on Parole, deals with mercy petitions of prisoners, submits annual criminal report to the government, appoints village chowkidars, deals with labour problems, strikes, etc. He takes necessary action for eviction under public Premises (Eviction) Act and Rent Control Act. He hears general complaints of the people against any matter relating to the district administration. He makes necessary arrangements for the holding of fairs and exhibition in order to ensure peace.

Maintenance of law and order is impossible without proper intelligence system. The area which is known for mischief mongering needs special attention on the basis of intelligence gathered. In the district activities of student organisations, particularly of bigger ones ; activities of communal organisations, of political organisations, they might be planning political agitations, and activities of such persons who are known for creating law and order problems ; needs constant watch and intelligence.

The intelligence system is organised by the Special Branch of the State Government. It has a small unit at the district level, which supplies information to the State and keeps informed of these developments to the S.P. and D .M. at district level. But S.P. and D.M. do not solely depend on this official information, they also develop their own sources and check and cross-check the intelligence gathered by the official unit. Timely information is a great help in maintaining law and order. The police acts on the orders of the Magistrate.

The relationship between the DM and Superintendent of police is full of tension. The SP feels that his position has un-necessarily been subordinated to that of the DM, but the control of law and order by DM has stood the test of times since its inception. He being the head of district administration, has wider resources to gather information and much broader view of administration compared to S.P. Many arguments have been given on both sides but the controversy is continuing.

Developmental Function

Since independence the nature and scope of governmental functions have increased. The government is striving to achieve socio-economic justice. The realisation of these two-fold objectives has led the government to perform developmental functions. With the increasing activities undertaken by the Government, this function of the collector has been gaining more and more importance.

To perform developmental functions, two types of patterns have emerged in different states. One is Maharashtra, Gujarat and Gujarat pattern in which all the developmental functions have been brought under the control of the Zila Partshad and all district level officers of development department have been placed under the administrative control of Zila Parishad. A separate IAS officer has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Zila Partshad, who exercises control on all officials of Zila Parishad.

The second Pattern is found in Tamil Nadu and other States. The Collector looks after both the regulatory as well as developmental functions. Both the patterns have worked satisfactorily. Prior to the introduction of Panchayati Raj in 1959 on the recommendations of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, 1957, the Collector was connected with all the developmental activities in the district, including community development. After the introduction of Panchayati Raj, developmental activities have been handed over to the elected bodies and the role of collector in this respect differs from state to state. Balwant Rai Mehta Committee had suggested “at the district level, the collector or the Deputy Commissioner should be the captain of the team of officers of all development departments and should be made fully responsible for securing the necessary coordination and cooperation in the preparation and execution of the district plans for community development. Where he is not already empowered to make the annual assessment of the work of the departmental officers in regard to their cooperation with other departments, their speed of work, their dealings with the people and their reputation for integrity, he should be invested with, such powers.” He is responsible for the successful implementation of developmental schemes of the Panchayati Raj.

The prevailing practice in many States at present is to make the district collector the coordinator of developmental functions and appoint an officer Additional District Collector and Chief Executive officer of the Zila Parishad. The Collector being the final authority in the district and is in a better position to get the cooperation of all district functionaries, therefore, he is in a better position to look after the developmental functions in the district. In agriculture development programmes and even in other development programmes a large number of agencies were required to supply inputs wisely. Therefore, coordination is required to make sure that the necessary inputs are available to the farmers at appropriate time. Moreover, there are number of special programmes like. Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP). Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP), Desert Development Programme (DDP). Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme, National Rural Employment programme, Training and Visit System, JRY, Prime Minister’s Employment Programme, etc. There is hardly any programme which does not involve the land acquisition, land management, regularization of sale and purchase of land etc. A number of coordination committees are functioning for implementation of various programmes under the district collector to ensure successful implementation of different development programmes.

Other Functions

In addition to the above discussed functions, he performs many other functions of various natures:

(1) The collector is the returning officer for elections to Parliament and Vidhan Sabha constituencies and has responsibility for coordination of election work at the district level.

(2) He conducts census operation every ten years;

(3) Grant of old age pension, grant of housebuilding loans.

(4) Preparation of district gazetteers and protection of ancient monuments.

(5) Supervision and control over municipalities in the district.

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