Here is an essay on ‘District Administration’ especially written for school and college students.
What is District Administration?
District Administration means the management of the task of government so far as it lies within an area legally recognized as a district. According to Khera, “District administration is the total management of public affairs within this unit.” The district is kept under the charge of a district officer—called either Deputy Commissioner or District Collector who acts as the eyes, ears and arms of the State Government. As such D.C.’s task is of pivotal nature. This task is of five kinds viz., Revenue, Magisterial, Judicial, Executive and Development.
Deputy Commissioner or District Officer is the linchpin of district administration. He is the head of the district. He is designated as Collector in some of the states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Deputy Commissioner in states like Haryana and Punjab.
In some other states, where judicial powers are still vested with the Deputy Commissioner, he is termed as the District Magistrate as well. Some other district officials who head various other departments in the District are Civil Surgeon or District Medical Officer, Executive Engineer, Superintendent of Police, District Forest Officer, District and Sessions Judge, District Education Officer, District Agricultural Officer, Assistant Registrar of Cooperative Societies etc., etc. However, Deputy Commissioner is overall responsible for efficient administration of the District.
These functionaries look to him for help, advice and at times orders. Even the citizens run to him for the redress of their grievances. According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India, a Collector of strong and sympathetic character with the gift of insight may gain the strongest hold over the affections and imagination of the peasantry and tales of his sagacity and good deeds will be told in remote village many years after his name has ceased to be borne on the civil list of the province. The position remains the same today depending on dynamism of the Collector/DC and his humane and unbiased approach to the citizens.
The District Officer:
The Deputy Commissioner (the D.C. or Collector) is designated as District Officer because he plays a pivotal role in the administrative set up of the district and exercises varying degrees of supervision over the heads of other departments functioning in the district.
He is appointed either through competitive examination for I.A.S. services held through U.P.S.C., or he is promoted from ‘ state) civil services. Quota for provincial services is reserved for promotion to IAS.
Duties of the District Officer:
He performs multifarious functions, hence he is called the backbone of administration and a pivot round which the entire administration of the district revolves. His principal duty, today, as it has always been, is the maintenance of law and order in the district. Prompt collection of revenue is his another duty of significance.
The direction and fulfilment of development plans is also one of his functiosn of paramount importance. To act as a buffer between citizens and administration is another important assignment of the D.C.
Hence his functions are multifarious and can be described as under:
1. As a Collector:
A district officer is the head of the revenue department of the district. In this capacity, he possesses power of general supervision and control of the land records and their staff; appointment, promotion, transfer and punishment of district officials in accordance with the standing orders of the government; writing character rolls of all under his authority; keeping a close watch on the agricultural conditions of the season; collecting of revenue and other taxes like agricultural income tax and irrigation rates, sales and mortgages of land, ensuring proper administration of land, seeing that rights in land are held and enjoyed and passed from one party to another within the jurisdiction of law and in an orderly way; submission of periodical reports to higher authorities; remission of revenue in case crops are destroyed due to flood havoc or drought or visits of locusts in the harvest season; maintenance of facts and figures regarding the wealth and welfare of the inhabitants of the district and managing governmental properties and courts of ward estates; relief of fire sufferers; assessment and realization of agricultural tax; supervision of Treasury and Sub-treasury; payment of Zamindari abolition compensation and rehabilitation grant, enforcement of Stamps Act.
As a fiscal officer of the district, he conducts Abkari sales and issues licenses to sellers of intoxicating drinks and narcotic drugs such as opium and hemp. He extends loans to the agriculturists and provides famine and flood relief to those affected adversely.
As in charge of district treasury, he is responsible for the due accounting of all money received and distributed, the correctness of the treasury returns and the safe custody of the valuables which it contains.
2. As the Chief Executive of the District:
His executive powers are enormous. He is the one man to whom the district looks for counsel, help and favours. According to S.S. Khera, an ex-I.C.S., one of the main purposes of district administration is to maintain the district in a state of law and order, in a state of peace. He can seek assistance from the police for maintaining peace and order in the district.
The Superintendent of Police is subject to his order and is expected to keep the D.C. informed about the problems pertaining to law and order. If he is vested with judicial powers as the District Magistrate as well, he is to deal with public meetings, processions, fairs, riots, agitations and communal or other disturbances.
He is to execute government policies on new schemes like National Savings, grow more food campaigns and family planning campaigns etc.
He brings about co-ordination between various departments. Some other executive duties of the D.C. are rationing of petrol, issuing of Haj passes, celebration of civil marriages, conducting of census, allotment of government built houses, conducting of elections, posting transfers and leave of gazetted officers within the district, dealing with pension cases of district staff, submitting annual budget estimates, in charge of the Treasury, District Stamp Officer, issuing of tentative programmes of ministers and V.I.Ps., to act as protocol officer in the District, supervising the proper conduct of civil suits in which state is party, counter-signing the grant-in-aid bills for various educational institutions, sale of excise shops, training of junior officers in official procedures and administrative work, effecting co-ordination in the work of all other district officers and presiding over the District Plan Implementation Committee.
3. As a Judicial Officer:
As a District Magistrate, he not only performs executive duties but also discharges judicial duties. He is to see that justice is done and that rule of law prevails. As a first class magistrate, he enjoys original and appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases. Appeals from the second and third class magistrates can be carried to him.
He supervises the subordinate magistrates including those working honorarily. If he considers an acquittal not justified or a punishment inadequate, he may advise the government to file an appeal to the High Court.
In the state where judicial powers have been taken away from the District officers and are entrusted to the District Magistrates (Judicial), the District Officers deal only with non-judicial functions such as exhorting people for good behaviour, regulation of prosecutions, control of the police, preventive detention etc.
He hears appeals against the revenue decisions of the S.D.O. or Tehsildar in matters affecting the entries in Patwari’s records and some other tenancy and land revenue matters. He makes jail inspections and looks to expeditious disposal of cases of under trial prisoners. He deals with premature release of prisoners or their release on parole.
He submits annual criminal report to government. He inspects police stations invariably once a year. He grants and cancels many kinds of licenses. He controls and supervises election work in the district He issues certificates for domicile to scheduled and backward classes and guardianship of political sufferers. He deals with labour problems and strikes. Many such fractions of judicial nature are performed by him.
4. Supervision of the Local Bodies:
He is entrusted with the functions of supervising and controlling the working of local bodies in the District, viz., District Boards, Village Panchayats, Municipal Committees, etc. According to Palande, “He has also to see that in matters of sanitation proper steps are taken by the local bodies particularly on the outbreak of epidemics.”
5. Development Functions:
With the dawn of independence, India has embarked upon a new era of welfare state and community life. Hence his developmental duties comprise of dispelling of ignorance, eradication of superstition, spread of co-operative institutions and Panchayats, increase of community projects and national extension schemes, rehabilitation of refugees and encouragement of awareness of rights and duties, etc., etc.
In fact performance of such duties gives him ample opportunities to come in contact with the people and prove his worth as a public servant in the true sense. The Imperial Gazetteer as quoted in preceding pages throws enough light on the developmental functions of the Collector (D.C.) even of the British times.
6. As Returning Officer:
The Collector is the Returning Officer for elections to Parliamentary and Vidhan Sabha Constituencies and is responsible for effecting coordination of election work at district level.
7. As District Census Officer:
He is responsible for conduct of census operations once in 10 years. He appoints enumerators, provides for their training and arranges timely supply of forms.
8. Miscellaneous Functions:
Besides the functions stated in the preceding paragraphs, he exercises a few other functions of no mean significance.
(i) To exercise superintendence over all other branches of district administration even though they are not directly placed under his charge.
(ii) To supervise the working of jails, reformatories, lunatic asylums and poor houses in the district.
(iii) To remain in touch with the working of the departments headed by other district officials as Executive Engineer, the Civil Surgeon, the Forest Officer, the Health Officer and the District Inspector of School.
(iv) To decide general policy on behalf of the government on such matters as local festivals, processions and conflict of interests between communities.
(v) To take prompt action in case of calamity, disaster and the like. In the words of S.S. Khera, the test of good administration is “as to how quickly how well and effectively the whole district administration comprising all its various ramifications can be organised and harnessed to the aid of the people.”‘
(vi) To keep liaison with military authorities and welfare of members of the armed forces—serving and retired.
(vii) To act as a leader in emergencies, like floods, famines, earthquakes, internal and external aggression.
(viii) He is to play role as a Public Relation Officer of the Government at the district level.
As such he is the spokesman of the district.
Position of the District Officer:
Keeping in view his executive, judicial, fiscal, supervisory and developmental functions we can conclude that the Deputy Commissioner is the centre of every important activity in the district. His authority is onerous and powers enormous. It has been aptly said that all the strings of district administration are gathered together in his hands.
William Hunter’s description of the powers of the D.C. during the British days holds good even today. According to him, “The District Officer is the fiscal officer charged with the collection of land revenue ; is also a revenue and criminal judge both of first instance and appeal…..Police, Jails, Education, Municipalities, Roads, Sanitation, Dispensaries, Local Taxation and the Imperial Revenue of his district are to him matters of daily concern. He is expected to make himself acquainted with every phase of the social life of the natives and with each natural aspect of the country.”
The famous Simon Commission also gave a nice portrayal of the District Officer, during the Britishers’ Rule—”He is the embodiment of the government. The authority which he derives from his statutory powers is augmented by the constant exercise of advice and discretion in matters where he is expected to lead. He wields large powers of patronage. He is responsible for making a vast number of minor appointments. His recommendations for honorary magistrateship and nominated memberships of all local self-governing bodies are ordinarily accepted. He can grant seats at ceremonial functions such as ‘darbars’ and the coveted Indian titles and honours and other rewards are usually conferred at his suggestion—the District officer must remain a very important person, the embodiment of effective authority and the resources to whom the countryside turns in time of difficulty and crisis. In no future that we can foresee will the post of the District Officer cease to be one which calls for those qualities of integrity and decision which so many of the best kind of public servants have exhibited in the service of India.”
Though the Deputy Commissioner no longer holds darbars or confers titles and enjoys that glamorous position of British days, yet his authority in the district can hardly be under-esti-mated. He still remains the sole chief agent and representative of the state government in the district. He serves as channel of communication between the government and the inhabitants of the district. Palande correctly remarks, “The District Officer is the eyes, the ears, the mouth and the hands of the Provincial Government in the district.”
He is still the ‘Mai Bap’ of the simple souls living in the rural India. He is still a prop to the needy and the distressed. People run to him for succour and redress when floods and famines cause ruination and play havoc with their peaceful living.
District Officer in Pre-Independence Days:
The District Officer (D.C. or Collector) was the real ruler of District prior to India’s emancipation from the imperialistic yoke. In the administrative hierarchy—Governor General, Governors, Divisional Commissioners, Deputy Commissioner—his presence was felt the most by the common man and his authority was wielded the maximum.
The Governor-General, the Governors and even the Commissioners being out of reach for the common man on account of their remoteness from the district headquarter and the superiority complex most of them suffered from, the people in general took the D.C. for the embodiment of the might of British Sarkar.
It was he who ruled the District according to his whims and caprice. His presence used to be felt by the people at every step and they invariably looked upon him as the savior of their hearth and homes, peace and prosperity. Thus, the D.C. was the real ruler of the District during Britishers’ era.
Another important fact about the D.C. during the British rule pertained to a wide gulf between him and the people. He was autocratic, being the representative of the tyrant rulers. He was master, a ruler but never a public servant. As already said, he was their ‘mai bap’ of course out of sheer necessity and not from the core of their heart. People feared him. They approached him with awe.
In fact, the D.C. himself played the role of a high-browed bureaucrat. He purposely did not mix with the people as it enabled him to uphold the dignity and prestige of the British Raj. He was the “British rule incarnate” the respected, feared, trusted, father and mother, to his 800000 he is omnipotent.
District Officer in Post-Independence Days:
With the ushering in of independence era in India there has occurred a marked change in the position of the D.C. The halo of glamour which surrounded him in the British days has almost vanished. He is no longer the ‘mai bap’ of the people. The inception of parliamentary form of government has transferred the D.C. from being an agent of a paternalistic alien rule into a subservient tool of a popularly elected government.
As such he is required to be persuasive and not coercive in his approach to the people whom he is supposed to serve. Besides he is conscious of his limitations. He is less adequately equipped for his job than his counterpart in British era.
An IAS after 4 to 5 years heads a district whereas his counterpart in British era could get the opportunity after many years of service. Still as said by K.K. Day, “There is not and never has been an official quite like the Collector anywhere else.”
No doubt his powers have not been curtailed except in those states where in pursuance of the Directive Principles, he has been deprived of judicial powers. Yet he has ceased to be an autocrat.
With the emergence of the concept of welfare state, the Deputy Commissioner, like all other political and permanent functionaries, has become the custodian of the welfare of the people under his jurisdiction. In fact, he had to adjust with the changed circumstances.
He can no longer treat the people as mere abstractions. He can no longer create awe and fear in their minds. This has resulted in a change in the people’s attitude towards him as well. He is longer feared or looked down upon by the people.
He is easily accessible and is considered amenable to reason. He considers himself as a part of the popular government machinery. He is no longer the instrument of oppression to keep people under the constant threat of being deprived of their lives and also their possessions if they do not toe the line of the government.
He has instead become the public servant in the true sense. He has to care for the M.L.A. of the area who can expose him, if he overshoots the mark and indulges in oppression of the people.
The M.L.A. being guardian of the people’s interests in the constituency, can carry complaints against the D.C. to the Chief Minister or the Home Minister who may not spare a corrupt, negligent or autocratic D.C. and transfer him to an unimportant department in the secretariat where he will be reduced to a mere glorified ‘Babu.’
However, it may not be out of place to point out that sometimes undue political interference is embarrassing and proves detrimental to the administration. Sometimes the M.L.As and M.Ps interfere in day to day administration and even challenge the Collectors with dire consequences if the latter fail to accommodate their friends, their relations and even party workers.
While referring to undue interference of M.L.As or M.Ps in District administration, Dr. Sastri has rightly pointed out— “the pernicious influence or blatant interference of the bad among them in the normal administration of the districts to which they belong is deplorable —they are the queerest customers of collectors.”
Though undue interference is undesirable yet an occasional pinpricking of the D.Cs by the local M.L.As and M.Ps in the interest of the inhabitants of the districts is essential. It has been rightly observed by a scholar on the discipline, “The role of District Collector has changed but not diminished for now he has an additional function of guiding democratic bodies and has to carry conviction with members of those democratic institutions.”
That enables the D.C. to maintain rational and harmonious balance between autocracy and democracy. The D.C. is required for toning up the administration and maintaining law and order whereas the MLA and MP are imperative if public service is the ultimate goal of the top functionaries of the welfare state. The latter pull up the former if he goes off the sails and exhibits arrogance.
Other Functionaries of the District:
A brief account of the functions of the functionaries in the district will not be out of place. District and sessions judge, Superintendent of police, Civil surgeon or chief medical officer of health, Executive engineer, S.D.O. and tehsildar, District inspector of schools, Employment exchange officer, District supply officer are some of the important heads of the departments functioning in the districts.
1. District and Sessions Judge:
The District and Sessions Judge heads the judicial organisation of the district. He constitutes the highest court in the district. As such he is equipped with both original and appellate jurisdiction. In the former capacity, he tries murder cases which are committed to his court by a first class magistrate.
However, if he is convicted as a murderer, the same is subject to approval by the High Court. In his capacity as an appellate authority, he hears appeals in both civil and criminal cases from the courts of magistrate and subordinate judges in the district.
The District and Sessions Judge also performs certain administrative duties. In this capacity, he supervises the work of civil and criminal courts in the district. He is selected through State Civil Service (Judicial) examination as Sub-Judge. A Senior Sub-Judge afterwards is promoted as District and Sessions Judge.
2. Civil Surgeon and Health Officers:
The Civil Surgeon is in-charge of governmental hospitals and dispensaries in the district. He advises and assists the District Officer in matters pertaining to health and sanitation. In Haryana and Punjab, the Civil Surgeons are now designated as Chief Medical Officers of Health.
They are generally in-charge of the Civil Hospitals and also the dispensaries and hospitals in the district. They have to keep up the health standards of the district. The Municipal Medical Officer of Health looks to sanitation of the town and adopts measures for the prevention of outbreak of various epidemics, as well.
3. Superintendent of Police:
The Superintendent of Police is the in-charge of Police force in the district. He assists the D.C. in the maintenance of peace and order in the district. In the departmental affairs, he is subject to the instructions of Inspector General of Police.
Moreover, in affairs pertaining to law and order, he is subject to the orders of the D.C. He gets assistance from Deputy Superintendent of Police, Inspectors, Sub-inspectors etc., in his task of establishing peace in the district. He is selected either through competitive examination for I.P.S. service or is promoted from D.S.P. to S.P.
4. Executive Engineer:
The Executive Engineer heads the engineering establishment in the district. His department (P.W.D.) deals with the construction and maintenance of government buildings, roads, bridges, tanks and wells. In the Punjab and Haryana a separate engineering department concerning the canals also exists. A Canal Engineer is the in-charge of this department.
5. Sub-Divisional Officer:
A few tehsils put together constitute a sub-division. A Sub-Divisional Officer heads the sub-division. He possesses both administrative and judicial duties. He is a magistrate as well as a revenue officer. In fact, his functions are analogous to those of the Collector at the district level.
His revenue duties are—regulation of details and resolution of disputes, doubts and difficulties regarding land revenue, supervision and inspection of all revenue matters, from assessment to collection, co-ordination of work in the departments of revenue, agriculture, veterinary and public health within the sub-division, appointment and dismissal of small revenue officials, collection and compilation of agricultural statistics.
His judicial duties comprise of decision of cases pertaining to land rights, enhancing, abating or commuting a rent, ejecting illegal subletting and deciding the question of the rightful ownership for a disputed land.
As a Magistrate First Class, he tries cases falling within his jurisdiction. He commits cases to sessions court. His quasi-judicial duties pertain to liaison and co-operation with the police in the sub-division, special precautions and actions in emergencies, appointments of mukhias, recommendations to the collector for grant of arms licenses.
His executive duties at the sub-division level become fairly important especially when in pursuance of Directive Principles; he is deprived of judicial duties. Supervising the police, deciding disputes of non-criminal character, appointing, promoting or transferring functionaries of the revenue department, maintaining closer contract with the pubic are his important executive duties.
Besides these functions, he is to perform developmental functions as well. The plans for grow more food. Community Projects and National Extension Schemes, abolition of social evils and superstitions, rehabilitation of refugees, etc., are some of the developmental functions which S.D.O. performs at the sub-divisional level, in order to cater to the welfare concept of the state.
6. District Inspector of Schools or District Education Officer:
Every district has a Inspector of Schools. In Punjab and Haryana they are designated as District Education Officers. A District Inspector of Schools or D.E.O. supervises and inspects the working of educational institutions up to Higher Secondary standards in the district.
He makes recommendations regarding extension of grants-in-aid to these schools. He is to look to the general educational development of the district, under the general direction of the D.C.
7. Extra Assistant Director of Agriculture:
In every district, there is an extra-assistant director of agriculture whose main duty is to propagate for the improved means of cultivation. He is also the in-charge of a model farm in which new methods are tried and research work regarding cultivation is carried on.
8. District Civil Supplies Officer:
He is in-charge of the rationing department in the district. He regulates the supply of essential commodities like sugar, flour, rice, maida and suji according to the instruction of the State Food Department.
9. Employment Exchange Officer:
He heads the Employment Exchange department of the district. His department is to register the names of persons seeking employment and to recommend them for appointment to suitable vacancies where they crop up.
All these heads of the various departments described in the preceding paragraphs work under the control and constant supervision of their respective departmental supervisors but the D.C. supervises and co-ordinates their work and exercises influence upon their departmental policies to quite a great extent. His remarks in the annual confidential reports of departmental heads matter.
10. Divisional Commissioner:
It is essential to say a few words about the Divisional Commissioner. The Divisional Commissioner is the head of a Division which is composed of generally seven to eight districts. He holds a position mid-way between a District Officer and the head of the state.