Sunday, September 16, 2012

District Administration since Independence: Changing role of the Collector; Union -state local relations; Imperatives of development management and law and order administration; District administration and democratic decentralization.


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District as a basic unit of field administration has been in existence through the ages. It is surprising to know that it has not changed substantially since the times of Manu in his description of a district in Manusmrithi where 1000 villages were grouped together to form a district and placed under the charge of an officer. However,the territorial structure of administration of India can be traced to the Mauryan era where revenue villages were called  'gramas',a group of revenue villages called 'stana'(visaya or taluk),several 'stanas' called 'aharas' or the District,a group of Districts called 'Pradesh' or the region/state and several 'pradeshas' called the 'Janapada' or a province/country.
The head of the District Administration had both revenue as well as police functions and is comparable to the present day District Collector. The District Collector's office succeeded the office of Kirori/Faujdar in the Mughal period.
Under the British rule and their experiments with the field of administration,in 1781 the district again became the unit of administration under the District Collector as the District head.
Thus,the present day District Administration has historical roots. However, this was non transparent and was laid out for loyalty to the British rule and establish its hegemony through the length and breadth of the country through a strong,disciplined and supervised office of the District Collector for regular collection of revenue.

Independence,and adoption of welfare state necessitated a complete reorientation of the concept of District Administration. The main stress has been on Development Administration and the introduction of the Panchayati Raj Institutions was a radical change in the field of district administration as it called for strengthening of the local units vs the office of District Collector and reducing the latter's role to that of a supervising and coordinating authority only in many states (Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan)whereas in some states the Zilla Parishad or District level bodies still retain a stronghold (Maharashtra and Gujarat).

Let's discuss this in detail below .

The District in India is the cutting edge of administration. The District administration is headed by the District Collector/Deputy Commissioner,drawn from IAS and he is responsible among others for the general control and direction of the police which is headed by the Superintendent of Police.
The District is split up into a number of sub divisions called 'Talukas' for the purpose of Administrative convenience. And to have a better supervision of the many Taluks,there has been a grouping of the taluks,each group of taluks under a Division which is headed by an official called 'Tehsildar'. These Tehsildars are state level officers and are called subdivisional or revenue divisional officers. Right at the bottom of Dsitrict>Divisions>Taluks there are the basic units which are the villages. in some states the Blocks and Taluks are coterminous in District Administration. The District Collector through the ZIila Parishads,Blocks(Panchayat Samithis)/Taluks and Gram Panchayat administer development programmes and supervises them. However,massive non-transparency due to illiteracy among people these officials are often found involved in wrong doings and erratic behaviour as well as functioning as agents of the ruling state party or Union/centre's  leading to revolts and outbursts from time to time. This hinders growth and development majorly.

We have already discussed the evolution and role of the District Collector before Independence,now we shall look into its growth and status post independence.
District Collector(DC) is also known as the Deputy Commissioner in states like Karnataka and Punjab.
Ever since the creation of this office in 1772,the District Collector's office continues to be the administrative head of District Administration. Basically,the DC has three major functions namely revenue,magisterial and developmental. Apart from these major functions,a large number of miscellaneous functions are also entrusted to him by state and Central governments like conduct of elections,dealing with calamities,supervising local govt. institutions,etc..
Collector was mainly entrusted with revenue administration,however, since Independence with the considerable change in the nature of the state from police rule to development and welfare his role to has shown a shift in the direction of development as he implements all the development programmes. The collector has overall control of the police administration of a state and this he is assisted by the Superintendent of the Police who is in charge of the whole district police force. The Collector advises the government on various aspects of law and order.
Since he is a Generalist,he coordinates the activities of overall departments under Specialists like Engineers,doctors,etc. by holding meetings among them at periodic intervals.
He is also to be the Friend,Philosopher and Guide of the Panchayati Raj Institutions.

i)Maintenance of Land records,collection of Land revenue and allied matters.
ii) Land acquisition.
iii) Control over extraction of Minor Minerals and collection of royalty for minor minerals.
iv) Local Self Govt.
v) Resettlement of Project Affected Persons during Disaster management and during riots/external aggression.
vi) Town Planning
vii) Elections
viii) Entertainment
ix) Civil Supplies
x) Land reforms
xi) Poverty alleviation
xii) Law and Order,supervision of police and jails,supervision of subordinate executive magistracy,hearing cases under the preventive section of the Criminal Procedure Code,certification to execute capital punishments.

This is the changing role of the Collector from the ancient times and British times to the contemporary times since Independence.

Even though the District Collector's office has undergone many changes since its inception,he still holds major importance in Centre-State relations and development at the local levels.

The Union and Centre relations have been discussed in detail in the previous article of this blog.
Today we will be discussing their relations in regard to local govt.
When the British left India, Sardar Patel pressed for, and got the approval for retaining the ongoing civil services machinery, however, with a more welfare and people oriented approach in order to maintain the highest possible standard of efficiency & giving the civil service an experience at the Centre; leading to efficiency and administrative experience of the District, and of it serving as a liasion between the states and the Union/Central govt,and of introducing both in the states and at the Centre a progressive and wide outlook and freshness and vigour of administration. Thus,was born the All India Administrative Services.
Though the local govt. comes under the subjects of the state list,still,the overall policy framework,funding and Planning in India is centrally controlled. So,since functioning and day to day affairs of the state local government offices and officials come under the state list therefore,the Centre provides for policy making and Planning functions as well as funding and the implementation part is passed on to the states for efficiency and successful implementation of the schemes purposes. And this is reviewed by the Union/Centre from time to time as discussed in the Planning Commission article earlier in this blog.
Therefore,welfare policies/schemes and programmes are of three types:
i) Centrally sponsored - Where the Centre takes responsibility of the all or 2/3rd of funding.
ii) Centre-State sponsored - Where the funding is shared equally between the two governments.
iii) State sponsored schemes - Where funding is totally from the state side.

One must take note that the District Collector is a Union/Central officer as he is appointed by the state government from the Indian Administrative Services . All his career progression and service related issues and grievances are handled by the Central govt.
It has been systemised in such a manner so that the DC functions in a neutral and unbiased manner,without any fear,  regarding his/her duties and responsibilities ,and implementation of welfare/development activities of both the Centre and the state in the respective district he/she has been assigned to.
Even though the DC's career and service matters are dealt with the Centre and he will eventually proceed from the states to the centre in his career graph,he has to first prove his mettle at the state level, and at this level he works under the supervision of the state government and reports to them regarding discharge of his functions.

Secondly, coordination between centre-states is important for proper supervision of implementation of these schemes and programmes to achieve the welfare policies.

However, issues plaguing this system are there and to study it in detail,refer to -

Development management deals with the coordination and management processes of international development programs and projects. The dominant paradigm in development management is the intervention in the form of a transfer of aid by an external agency/donor and the oversight of the related project cycle, i.e. project identification, planning (formulation and appraisal), implementation and monitoring, and evaluation.
The term development management is used in the sense of achievement and objectives with optimum use of limited resources in manpower, finance, material, time and also active contribution to the clarification and reformation of policies and objectives.
The urgency/imperativeness of this is seen in light of the LPG era and immense pressure being put on developing nations to achieve goals and policies being set by the International organisations and the obligation to fulfill these to remain updated and in the race. However,one must note that not every country can compete as the other,however,India specifically needs to shift its focus from development administration to a more efficient development management perspective and practice in order to remain in the league. For this many courses as well as programmes are being rolled out bu the country's education system as well as sponsored by the international organisations. Also, there should be a lot more emphasis on re-training of administrators in service to develop these management skills and become more efficient to achieve these goals and objectives.

 Law and order(judiciary,Police,etc) administration is one of the most important function performed by the Government. Infact,the survival of administration depends upon maintenance of law and order in a country. The functioning of law and order administration comes under the state list with the Union/Central government having advisory and coordinating role(discussed in last post on this blog). Unfortunately,in view of the prevailing atmosphere of violence in the country,attention to law and order is called for,but,the sad part is that this is being neglected in favour of development administration.
Therefore,it is imperative that law and order is given adequate attention and it is built up both on the infrastructural as well as intelligence and implementation level and its grievances and issues sorted out if we want a sound welfare state where development and law and order go hand in hand otherwise development will be stalled.

Democratic decentralisation here is used in reference to the 73rd and 74th amendment acts of 1992 that set up rural and urban local government bodies,viz. Panchayati raj institutions(PRIs) and Municipalities respectively.
The PRIs were set up to move decision making centres closer to the people by transferring the powers of decision making from higher authorities to them,all development schemes and its funds to be channelised through them,inculcating leadership qualities among the rural masses,encouraging people's participation in planning and policy making,etc.

However the ground relaities are:
i) Bureaucratic resistance to delegation of power to PRIs
ii) Vested interests of higher officials and middlemen take over in between.
iii) Elitist behaviour and biasedness among the bureaucrats and government officials.
iv) No incentive to the DC in development activities.

However,there has been constant debate as to whether the District Collector who represents the Centre and states be a part of this or he should simply supervise as the minds of the rural people are constantly suspicious towards them. This causes a lot of problems in effective administration and implementation of programmes.
Another aspect to this debate is that with so much of responsibility,the DC will be distracted from his other major functions like law and order,etc.

Solutions to the above mentioned issues:
i) Changing the mindsets of both the DC and the PRIs through attitudinal training
ii) Role and Goal clarity specifically put in front of both so no confusions and encroachment is done later.
iii) A good complaint and redressal system/mechanism for both through a neutral administrative or judicial body.


Also refer to topic ' Government Reforms' here -


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The next article on this blog will cover:

Civil Services:
Constitutional position; Structure, recruitment,
training and capacity-building; Good
governance initiatives; Code of conduct and
discipline; Staff associations; Political rights;
Grievance redressal mechanism; Civil service
neutrality; Civil service activism.

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