In the administrative hierarchy of our country, the district occupies a place of cardinal importance. It has rightly been described as the basic unit of administration in India.
It is the place where the ordinary person comes into direct contact with the administration and where the difference between good and lousy administration is consequently made and felt.
The district administration has come to evolve itself over the years. It is a very comprehensive and complete segment of the national administration. The district administration is that portion of public administration that functions within the territorial limits of a district.
SS Khera defines it as:
that total and complex organisation of the management republic affairs (which is) at work, in the territory of the geographically demarcated district.
Analysing the various components of the district administration, Mendell says that district administration contains:
- Agencies of all important departments of the state government;
- Institutions of local government, urban as well as rural;
- Certain advisory bodies associated with the administration and such individuals who serve in the capacity of assessors and jurors in the trial of cases;
- Such advisory committees to help the administration in various matters. For example, an advisory committee for the selection of honorary magistrates and an advisory committee for the issue of transport licenses.
In this article, we examine the role and functions of the Deputy Commissioner or District Collector in detail.
The Deputy Commissioner (District Chief)
The district administration is headed by an official designated differently in different states.
In Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, etc., he is called the Deputy Commissioner, whereas in UP, Maharashtra, etc., he goes by the name of the District Collector.
He belongs to the Indian Administrative Service and is recruited and appointed by the President of India. However, his services are placed at the disposal of the state government.
Fresh extract to this service is given a comparatively junior administrative post either at the state secretariat or in the district. Only after putting in a few years of service he is entrusted with the post of District Chief. After being elevated to the Indian Administrative Service, top members of the state civil service are occasionally assigned to the position of District Chief.
The Deputy Commissioner is one of the highest-ranking officers in the state’s administration. His position is illustrated in the following table:
- State Government (higher level) to Deputy Commissioner (lower level).
- The following officers work under the Deputy Commissioner:
- Sub-Divisional Officer (Sub-Division: A group of Tehsils)
- Tehsildar (Tehsil)
- Naib Tehsildar (Parts of Tehsil)
- Qanungo (Revenue civil)
- Patwari (Group of villages)
As head of the district administration, the most important works are under him. His relationship with all of them is not uniform. Officers who are solely under his command, such as the Sub-Divisional Officer, Tehsildars, and so on.
Officers who are only accountable to him in terms of administrative behaviour are accountable to their state-level departmental chiefs for all technical matters.
This category includes such officers as the district Chief Medical Officer, District Education Officer, etc.
Functions and Role of District Commissioner
Being the pivot of district administration, the Deputy Commissioner performs various functions in different capacities. Here is more about his role as a Collector, DM, District Officer, and government representative.
The most important role of the Deputy Commissioner is that of a Collector. When we look back at the origins of his position, we can see that the British government’s major goal in creating it was to ensure the efficient collection of land tax.
That is precisely the reason why this official bears the designation of District Collector in some states. He continues to perform this role even today. As a Collector, it is his responsibility to collect land revenues and all other taxes and fees that the State Government levies.
He is also supposed to prepare and maintain the land record of the whole district, indicating the latest position regarding the ownership of the lands and the position of the crops. This task though simple, is, in fact, very exhaustive and detailed.
It involves the preparation of a detailed map of every village, registration of all deeds of sale, mortgage and transfer of property, entry of mutations, consolidation of all entries after every four years, assessment of the land revenue and the collection thereof, settlement of land disputes, and so forth.
In this task, the Deputy Commissioner is assisted by the Tehsildar, Naib Tehsildar, Patwaris, Lambardars, and Chowkidar.
Another face of his duties as a Collector is managing government properties and organising and distributing relief in times of calamities such as floods, famine, drought, earthquakes, etc.
He also sanctions agricultural and other loans and can exempt people from paying the revenue.
The Deputy Commissioner is also responsible for proper accounting of all money received and disbursed with the district.
He regulates the sale of narcotic drugs through licenses.
In this way, we find that the duties of the Deputy Commissioner as a Collector vary.
As District Magistrate
The second important role that the Deputy Commissioner performs is that of a District Magistrate. As such, he has been charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order in the district. He performs this duty with the help of the police.
Whenever he apprehends some danger to peace, he takes several precautionary steps, such as the promulgation of section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, under which all processions and meetings are banned. He can also detain such persons likely to cause a breach of law and order.
If a riot breaks out, he can impose a curfew or order Lathicharge or fire.
He is also authorised to ban the publication of any such material, either in the forms of books, handbills, or newspapers, if they are likely to excite the people and instigate unrest.
In this way, he can take several drastic steps to overcome the situation.
He is also authorised to call the military and entrust the disturbed area to their care.
As a District Magistrate, he also possesses the power of an Executive Magistrate, and thus he tries certain types of cases.
He also supervises the work of the subordinate Executive Magistrate.
Until recently, when the judiciary had not been separated from the executive, he also used not only to supervise the conduct of all those who tried (handled) civil and criminal cases but also tried criminal cases himself. He thus acted both as a prosecutor and a judge. This deal role had turned him into an officer, doing justice at every step. It has become a point of great controversy. Now, when the judiciary has been separated from the executive, he has been deprived of all his judicial authority. Today, he handles only the non-judicial work, as explained above.
As District Officer
In his capacity as a District Officer, he performs several duties of a miscellaneous nature. These may be summed up as under.
He supervises the work of all the local bodies in the municipality town, notified area committees and Panchayati Raj institutions. All these bodies are supposed to submit copies of the resolution that they pass from time to time for his perusal. He can suspend any one of them if he deems fit and can also be recommended to the government for its annulment. He can also suspend members from their membership and can also recommend the Government to supervise any institution. He also holds elections for them and conducts their periodical inspection.
The District Officer also supervises the working of all the departments located within the district. Though these departments do not fall in the administrative purview of the Deputy Commissioner, he is supposed to exercise general supervision over all of them in the interest of the well-being and efficiency of the whole administration. The heads of these departments are supposed to keep the Deputy Commissioner fully informed about the development in their respective departments.
He acts as the development chief of the district. Within the institution of the community development program in the country, the overall responsibility for the development of the district has been assigned to him. He is assisted by the district, development officer, and block development officer. He inspects the projects under execution and keenly watches their day-to-day progress.
The District Officer also looks after the allotment and distribution of essential commodities. This day-to-day aspect has become quite an important one because of the chronic shortage of goods. He issues licenses and allots quotas and depots for the sale and distribution of these commodities and conducts surprise raids, thereby ensuring a fair distribution to all sections of the population.
As District Officer, he serves as chief officer, arranging for the VIPs to be received. He also makes certain that they are safe.
He conducts various elections himself and acts as the Chief Returning Officer (the polling, counting, and decision-making authority of the returning officer is statutory, and the Election Commission has no jurisdiction to override him/her). As District Officer, he has been charged with the responsibility of holding census operations.
Finally, the District Officer acts as a channel of communication between the government and the people, listening to their grievances and communicating their views of the government. This is no longer as important as it once used to be. Several new channels have also come into existence. Important among them are MLAs, MPs, Panchayat Raj, institutions, etc. Even then, the government relies on him to a considerable extent.
As a Representative of the Government
The Deputy Commissioner finds a place in the district as the man of government. The Deputy Commissioner informs the state government about all the happenings in the district. He also puts forth the problems of the district before the government. It is often said that he is a man with many blasters, with equal impartiality and courtesy. As an agent of the government, he performs the following duties:
Role in Planning:
Although plan-making is the responsibility of state and national governments in India, numerous district-level units participate in the design and execution of plans. Moreover, to strengthen grassroots democracy, planning at the district level is required. Setting up the agricultural planning cells at the regional levels is a step in this direction. The Punjab government has also taken a step in this direction by setting up a District Planning Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner. He collects data related to the development of agriculture through other officials situated at the district, block, and village levels.
As an agent of the state government, the Deputy Commissioner maintains liaisons (communication and coordination) with other departments. Anything that is out of the jurisdiction of any specific officer (Sub-Division officer, Tehsildar, Naib Tehsildar, Qanungo, Patwari) comes under his jurisdiction. He brings coordination in the following manner:
- By presiding over the meetings
- By writing confidential reports
- By assisting other officers, etc.
Execution of General Policies:
It is the first and foremost duty of the Deputy Commissioner to execute the general policy of the government. He creates the required enthusiasm amongst the public to respond to government policies.
In the capacity of a government agent, the Deputy Commissioner makes appointments. He transfers the field and other district-level officers.
Operating over a long period, the district as the basic unit of administration has proved a successful arrangement for various agencies at the national and state levels, and the policies of different sectors converge at the district level.
The Deputy Commissioner is the head of district administration and plays a crucial role in various areas of local administration. His role used to be equated with that of a king during the British period.
Since independence, however, his responsibilities have increasingly shrunk to include revenue land administration, law and order ceremonial obligations, and a few routine administrative functions.
However, this does not mean that his role is not significant. The overall local governance and local development still depend upon his vision and administrative skills.
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