Functions and Role of District Magistrate

Functions and Role of District Magistrate


District Administration the legacy of the British Raj is the principal unit of territorial administration and has been the nodal point of the administrative system in India. The district is considered the principal position of administration for purpose of revenue administration and maintenance of the law and order. The district as the primary unit of administration or as the foundation of the administrative setup has for long been a “Pivotal Point of Contact” between the citizens and the administration. The success of district administration, therefore, builds the success of state administration.

As collector: This is the traditional function of the district magistrate. As the head revenue officer, his foremost task is the assessment and collection of land revenue.

In addition to these taxes of different types, such as irrigation dues, income tax dues, agricultural dues, canal dues, sales tax, arrears, court fees, excise duties on various commodities, stamp duties, etc. are collected by his office.

The collector assesses the amount of relief required in case of calamities. He also takes the relief work. Land may be acquisioned for housing schemes, development projects, etc. Land acquisition is another function of the collector. Preparation and maintenance of land records is an important function of the collector. The district treasury comes under his control and officers attached to the district treasury function under his supervision.

As District Magistrate: Maintenance of law and order and safety in the district is the primary function of the district magistrate. He pays continuous attention to the problems arising out of social and political tensions, communal disharmony, caste problem, terrorism, smuggling, and economic offenses which may threaten peace and order in the district and the safety of its people. The function and role of a District Magistrate can be discussed in the following three areas—police, judiciary, and jail.

Although the actual administration of the police is discharged by the district superintendent of police under the responsibility of the D.G. of police, the police force, in general, works under the order and supervision of the district magistrate.

There has been an erosion in the authority of the district magistrate as a judicial magistrate. Due to the separation of the judiciary from the executive, the civil and criminal powers are now the responsibility of the judiciary under the control of the High Courts. The district jails are under the general control of the district magistrate.

As coordinator: The District Magistrate is overall in charge of every important official activity in the district. He coordinates the activities of all the government departments which function in the district. The names of a few such departments are public health, agriculture, public works, irrigation, education, and cooperation.

The district magistrate is regarded as a commander who is to coordinate their activities. He holds meetings of the officers posted as the head of the various departments at the district level at periodic intervals to take the stock of the work done. The district magistrate gives them suggestions, removes bottlenecks, and raises confidence. He guides the district functionaries.

As Development officer: The role of the district magistrate in the development has assumed the greatest importance after the initiation of the develop­ment planning and the Panchayat Raj system. Several projects and programs for rural development have been undertaken for the benefit of the cross-section of the people and especially for the underprivileged and downtrodden people.

Several schemes of development related to health, education, employment, housing, agriculture, marketing of agricultural products, etc and some special programs for rural women, children and the youth are in full operation under the supervision of the District Magistrate. These programs aim at eradicating poverty and improving the living standards of poor and helpless people. Besides, several projects, like DDP, DPAP, TDP, CAD, IRDP, and many other important projects are undertaken. The district magistrate is responsible for the implementation of all these schemes. In fact, he is the captain, commander, and leader of the developmental work of the entire district.

Role in Panchayat Raj: With the advent of Panchayat Raj the role of the district magistrate is to be viewed in terms of his position and relationship with the Panchayat system. He is not only the Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Parishad. He also looks after the functioning of the other two tiers of the Panchayat body by providing necessary assistance and technical help and supervises to ensure that the priorities fixed in the plans are being adhered to. He also ensures that no conflict develops between the district administrative staff and the elected representatives of the Panchayats bodies and between themselves.

As Crisis Manager: The effectiveness of the office of the District Magistrates is put to test during a crisis. Here he is to act as crisis manager and savior. During emergencies caused by natural calamities like floods, famines, droughts, cyclones, etc, or man-made crises, such as riots, fires, loot, murder, etc. he has to arrange relief measures, organize rescue operations, check epidemics, ensure medical treatment, prevent panic and perform a host of other crucial functions. At the time of such a crisis, the DM and his staff appear to be the savior of the downtrodden people.

Miscellaneous Functions: The activities of the District Magistrate cannot remain confined within the written boundaries of his functions.

As District Magistrate he is to act in various roles and perform various miscellaneous functions. A few important functions of such nature are mentioned below:
  • He plays the role of Chief Returning officer and coordinates the entire election proceedings at the district level.
  • He functions as the District Census officer.
  • He works as the official government representative in the ceremonial functions in the district.
  • He handles the protocol work in the district.
  • He looks after the working of the municipal bodies in the district.
  • He ensures the regular supply of essential commodities at reasonable prices.
  • He arranges training for government servants.
  • He deals with the personnel matters of the huge number of staff posted in the district.
  • He undertakes regular tours in the district to know about the performance of the government work and also to listen to the grievances of the people about the government.
  • He complies with and submits various reports related to the district to the appropriate authorities.
The existence of a plurality of departments at the district level, and the multi­dimensional functions of various natures assigned to them, make the District Magistrate almost indispensable but overburdened. There is unparallel uniqueness about the office of the district magistrate—he acts as a leader, motivator, developer, doer, and savior and, above everything, a top administrator. This makes his role overloaded, overburdened, and overstrained. In fact, he is the chief actor in the district administration.

Meaning of Development in Present Scenario

An economic component dealing with the creation of wealth and improved conditions of material life, equitably distributed. A social ingredient measured as well being in health, education, housing, and employment. A political dimension including such values as human rights, political freedom, enfranchisement, and some form of democracy. A cultural dimension in recognition of the fact that cultures confer identity and self-worth to people. The full life paradigm refers to meaning systems, symbols, and beliefs concerting the ultimate meaning of life and history, and a commitment to ecologically sound and sustainable development so that the present generation does not undermine the position of the future generations.

District Magistrate

IAS officers (Known as Collectors) were generally held in high regard as incorruptible and good administrators in the colonial era. Upon independence, the new Republic of India accepted the then-serving Indian civil service officers who choose to stay on rather than leave for the UK and renamed the service the Indian Administrative Service.

The Basic territorial unit of administration in India is the district and district administration is the total management of public affairs within this unit. District Collector was the pivot of district administration and represents the state government in its totality. The involvement of the Collector in development administration would not only make his role more meaningful and satisfying but also the district-level coordination more effective.

The supervisory role of the District Collector in the development process in the district must be maintained as he is the supreme authority and his role provided by Constitution can not be undermined by any other agency. The very presence of the District Collector in the meeting of local self-government makes the environment cordial and effective. There is thus a strong case for actively involving the Collector in development matters, which form the main thrust of today’s administration. It is largely at the district level that two agencies of government coverage and the policies and programs for a concrete shape and the Collector has been the changing agent.

The Collector is still the linchpin in the district administration whether it is development administration or general administration. It is also germane to quote here Rajeev Gandhi: “The District Magistrate or Collector is the government as far as the people are concerned with a capital ‘G’. The face they represent to the millions that you come into contact with, is the face of the government, your behavior is the behavior of the government, your attitude is the attitude of the government, and your concern for the poor and deprived is the concern of the government and again, it is your achievement of the targets that are set which is the achievement of the government.”

This statement indicates that District Collector has been the foundation stone of development administration and will remain the fulcrum of grassroots democracy at the district level. The main part of contact between the citizen and the Administration lies in the District and the usefulness of the Administration is considerably determined by the degree of its efficient functioning at the district level. The office of District Collector who also functions as Magistrate has been a source of faith and belief for millions of Indians. He is the highest functionary of the district administration in the country. His constitutional authority, sagacity, and acumen make him indispensable in the district administration. It has been tried to explain the importance of the office of the Collector in district administration since the incorporation of this prestigious institution by the British in its present structure.

Before Independence, the role of Collector was regulatory in nature and they were very successful in their mission because they had absolute power to deal with any rising situations. In these sixty-two and half years, the bureaucracy has really held the country together, helped develop the country, and given its stability. Several epithets are used to describe this institution, but the contribution of the bureaucracy in national building, and capacity building is an analytical study and national debate discussion. The District Collector has a dual capacity: as Collector he is head of the revenue organization and as Magistrate, he reviews the law and order situation in the district. This institution in the first place serves its peculiar purpose of collecting revenue and of keeping the place.

But because it is so close-knit, so well established and so thoroughly understood by the people, it simultaneously discharges easily and efficiently an immense number of other duties. It deals with land registration, settlement of disputes, primary education, loans to agriculturists, devolution of power to the people, implementation of various social and welfare schemes, and above all, relief work. The wide range of a Collector’s duties has been noted by every writer on Indian administration and all of them agree to some extent that Collector is overburdened and the role of Collector has got a sea change after the implementation of 73rd Amendment 1992.

In a bid to provide Constitutional protection to the local self-government, parliament has passed the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992. The basic objective of this amendment is to bring decentralization in the administration and devolution of power to the rural people through Panchayats Raj (Local Self Government) more emphasis has been given to this amendment to the functioning of Zila Panchayat after the Implementation of the 73rd Amendment and subsequent bill of Bihar Panchayat Raj Act 2006 which ensures fifty percent reservation for women in Panchayat election.

The paradigm shift in the role of the District Collector after the 73rd Amendment and the segregation of development work from the purview of the District Collector makes this prestigious office a typical case study. The constraints of District Collector vis-a vis Panchayat Raj Institution in proper functioning further undermine the authority and prestige of this office which was once the eyes and ears of the state government. Development and Good Governance are two sides of the same coin and the combination of both the District Magistrate makes things warder. 

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