Short Essay on District Magistrate (India)

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The Collector also known as the District Magistrate, he is responsible for the maintenance of law and order in his district. His position in this context assumes greater significance looking to the social political and communal tensions that threaten the law and order situation so frequently.

Terrorism, communalism, smuggling and other economic offenses have added to his burdens. Essentially, no development can take place unless peace and tranquility are maintained.

Three elements are involved here - the police, the judiciary and the jails. The police force in the district, with the Superintendent of Police at its head, is kept under the control and supervision of the District Magistrate. Although the actual internal administration of the police is discharged through its own departmental line and, for purposes of disciplinary and technical supervision, the S.P. is responsible to the D.G. of Police; the operational control of the police force comes under the direct charge of the District Magistrate.

When a magistrate, however junior he may be, is present, he assumes charge of the situation and the police must act under his orders. It is he who must give the order to fire or to use force, unless, of course, the situation is such that he is unable to do so.

Section 4 of the Police Act also vests the police administration of the district in the District S.P. under the control of the District Magistrate. The annual police administration report prepared by the S.P. is also submitted through the District Magistrate. He can inspect police stations, police staff and police diaries.

In the 1970s, a debate was generated which has not yet led to conclusion till today. It relates to the relationship between the S.P and the District Magistrate. The problem is how to reconcile the general supervision exercised by the Collector with the freedom required by the S.P. in his day-to-day working.

The controversy is not very new either. Its roots can be traced back to the last quarter of the 19th century, when the powers of the Collector were at their zenith and the S.P was declared in the Police Manual as a mere assistant of the District Magistrate.

The Indian Police Commission of 1902 - 1905 recommended a relaxation in this control and asked the District Magistrate not to interfere in matters of departmental management and discipline.

The Royal Commission on Decentralisation, however, suggested that the powers of the District Magistrate vis-a-vis the police be increased. Perhaps, what Philip Woodruff talked about in 1861 could warn us about similar dangers today. He said:

There were bound to be occasions when the Magistrate disbelieved a case, the Superintendent thought genuine. And in every district there were plenty of people anxious to play off the Superintendent against the Magistrate.

In modern times too, tensions can be generated when supervision could be mistaken for interference. In metropolitan cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi and Madras, since 1978, the responsibility for law and order vests with the Police Commissioner and the District Magistrate has no say in this regard.

A similar controversy was discussed by the Bihar Police Commission in 1961 but the Commission opined that "the present conflict wherever existing is due, more to conflict of personalities than a conflict of the system itself."

Regarding the powers of the Collector as a judicial magistrate, there has been serious erosion in the authority of the District Magistrate.

The Directive Principles of State Policy, as prescribed by Article 50 of the Constitution, separate the judiciary from the executive. Due to this separation, the entire range of judicial proceedings, civil as well as criminal, is now the sole responsibility of the judiciary under the control of the High Court of the state. The judges hear appeals against the magistracy, including the district magistrate.

For all his standing and power and seeming glamour, a verdict or judgement by the district magistrate is in most cases appealable to the district judge. There we have the supremacy of law.

The District Magistrate acts in many ways as an agent of the judiciary. The execution of writs of the civil and criminal courts, including criminal writs from courts outside the district, is normally done through the magisterial element of the district administration.

He can hear cases under the 'preventive' section of the Code of Criminal Procedure and exercise powers under Section 144 in case of disturbance to peace with his jurisdiction. He supervises the subordinate magistracy, orders magisterial postings during festivals and has powers under several acts like Trade Mark Act, Sugar Factories Control Act, Entertainment Tax Act, Press Act etc., but, all said and done, the separation has brought a marked decline in his authority.

See for instance the case of Bihar. In Bihar, all magistrates and munsifs magistrates trying criminal cases are under the control of the High Court through the Sessions Judge. The Collectors have nothing further to do with a criminal case after it has been transferred for trial to a munsifs or a judicial magistrate.

Only the Sessions Judge will record the annual confidential remarks on the work and conduct of the magistrates employed on the judicial side.

The High Court is vested with the powers of transfers and postings of and grant of leave to judicial magistrates. Now, under the separation scheme, the District Magistrates does not inspect trial registers and case records. The responsibility for the speedy disposal of cases rests with the Session Judge.

The last component is jails. The district jail is under the general control of the District Magistrate. He can visit the jail from time to time to see that all is well and ensure the expeditious disposal of cases of under trial prisoners.

He deals with problems such as the grant of superior classes to prisoners, premature release of prisoners, release of prisoners on parole, mercy petitions of prisoners etc. He, or any other magistrate authorized by him, must be present when a condemned prisoner is executed and has to sign the necessary certificate that the execution has been carried out.


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