Essay on the Development Role of the District Collector (India)



The development role of the Collector became a focal point after the initiation of development planning in India. It was felt that the great influence that the Collector wielded in the district should be harnessed to the task of development.

Rural development was an essential precondition for the establishment of a welfare state and several programmes for the benefit of the downtrodden beginning with the Community Development Programme in 1952 were introduced. In the 1960s, several schemes of rural development were started.

These related to health, education, employment, and improvement of housing conditions and some special programmes for rural women, children and the youth. These programmes aimed at eradicating poverty and improving the living standards of the poor. Besides, a number of area development programmes, like DDP, DPAP, TDP, CAD, gained significance in the 1970s.

In this task of economic development, the role of the Collector is not that of an advisor or observer alone.

The emphasis is on his leadership role in the extension and development activity. In this context, a brief reference to the case of Rajasthan may be made.

It may be mentioned here that the situation is not the same in all states. For instance, in Maharashtra and Gujarat, all development activities have been transferred to the District Development Officer, who also belongs to the IAS, and the Collector's role in development administration there is only peripheral.

The Rajasthan Panchayat Samitis and Zila Parishad Act, 1959, provided that the Collector, as the District Development Officer, must see that:

(i) Technical assistance is made available to extension officers by the concerned departments of the state government;

(ii) Adequate precautions of loans advanced by the state government to Panchayat Samitis;

(iii) Panchayats and Panchayat Samitis are provided with necessary assistance in the early recovery of their dues, whether as tax or on account of loans; and

(iv) Whether priorities as fixed in the plans are being adhered to and the general pattern of work is in conformity with the policies laid down by the state or Central Government.

The developmental role of the Collector is evidenced in his position as the ex-officio chairman of the District Rural Development Agency. This is a society registered under the Indian Societies Registration Act and is responsible for the implementation of rural development programmes.

This society is a fusion of governmental authority and the flexibilities of an autonomous organization. Several types of schemes are implemented by DRDA under the broad framework of the Integrated Rural Development Programme. Firstly, there are the area-based schemes such as the Desert Development Programme and the Drought Prone Area Programme. Secondly, there are individual beneficiary schemes.

Some of them aim at the benefit of the poorest of the poor, some such as "Training the Rural Youth for Self Employment" (TRYSEM) and the "National Rural Employment Programme" (NREP) aims at providing more employment to the rural youth.

Some such as "Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas" (DWCRA) aim at the welfare of women alone. Lastly, there are schemes such as the Samagra Gram Vikas Programme and various schemes for tribal development, which are a mixture of both.

The Collector, with the assistance of the district-level staff, is responsible for the implementation of these schemes. He also performs developmental roles in his formal capacity as the head of the District Industries Centre, chairman of the district-level Bankers Coordination Committee, chairman of the City Monitoring Committee etc.

He is also actively involved in the implementation of the 20-Point Programme and the revenue campaigns launched by the government for the speedy settlement of land and revenue disputes.

The role of the Collector at the district level in rural development has to be viewed in terms of his position in and relationship with the Zila Parishad, Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats. It suggested that the Collector be made the chairman of the Zila Parishad. The contention behind this was that the Collector, by virtue of his eminent position and authority in the district, could guide and lead the Zila Parishad. The contention behind this was that the Collector, by virtue of his eminent position and authority in the district, could guide and lead the Zila Parishads in the task of development. Unfortunately, it did not notice any contradictions that would arise, if the Collector were to head an elective institutional set­up. This controversy is discussed below.

The states, on their part, did not accept the recommendations of the Mehta Committee totally. There emerged different patterns of relations between the Zila Parishad and the Collector.

In some states, the Collector was made the chairman and member of the Zila Parishad; in some he was member of the Zila Parishad and chairman of certain committees. In Rajasthan, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh, the Collector is a member of the Zala Parishad (in Rajasthan he has no voting right) and chairman of several standing committees whereby he exercises considerable authority. Lastly, in some states, such as in Maharashtra and West Bengal, he is excluded from the Zala Parishads and he only has some powers over it pertaining to general supervision and control.

Critics, who disapprove of the strong position of the Collector in the Zila Parishad, give various reasons for keeping him out of the Parishad. Firstly, the Parishad is a non-official and purely elective body.

In case of a disagreement between the chief of the Parishad and the Collector, the former may argue that, as an elected representative, he knows the pulse of the people better. Secondly, the Collector's affiliation and involvement with the Za Parishad would detract him from his performance in the field of law and order administration.

On the other hand, if he is preoccupied with law and order problems, he becomes suspect in the eyes of the Zila Parishad. Lastly, it will pose an embarrassing dilemma for the Collector, if the Zila Parishad and the state government disagree. He might be in a fix due to divided loyalties.

Similarly, there are others who argue for closer links between the Collector and the Parishad. He can, by virtue of his eminent position, act as a mediator to solve differences among the Parishad members and see that the targets determined by the government are achieved. Secondly, segregating him from the Parishad would mean the virtual removal of the Collector from the development activities in the district and it would mean his alienation from the common man.

Thirdly, he can best coordinate the development task only if he is actively involved with the Parishad. Last but not the least important is the psychological reason. The idea of a Collector as the father-figure of the district is so firmly entrenched in the minds of Indians that they trust him more than their elected representatives and are reassured by his presence in the Parishad. As Richard Park observes:

Close observers of district administration seldom report local people pleading for an increase in local responsibility for local affairs. On the contrary, the bulk of opinion favours the retention of strong collectorate as protection against predatory incursions against the purse and powers of local affairs by local politicians.

Obviously, a middle way is to be adopted. In this case, Rai and Singh suggest that even if the Collector is not a member of the Parishad, the chairman must involve the Collector regularly in discussions and seek his advice. "Assistance, guidance and advice from within" and "not control and direction from without should be the guiding" motto of the new relationship another important guideline is given by Dubashi. He says:

The Chief Executive Officer would be the coordinator, the area specialist and the captain of the team of development officers at the district level. The new Collector would be the 'eyes and ears' of government and if not the 'friend, philosopher and guide', at least a 'corrector' and 'inspector' and 'ombudsman' of the panchayati raj institutions.

Practical experience also shows that it is not advisable or totally affordable to keep the Collector out of the Parishad and out of development activities. A study conducted by Edwin Eames and Parmatma Saran, based on the state of Bihar, shows how the state government tried to dispense with the services of the Collector in the field of development and how he bounced back, time and again, on the developmental screen.

In 1955, the Government of Bihar issued the redefinition circular which gave an eminent position to the Collector. He was made responsible for the execution of all the development programmes. A break from this pattern took place in 1973.

The scheme issued in May 1973 positioned a senior official named the Deputy Development Commissioner to work as the Chief Executive Officer of the 2a Parishad.

He was equal in rank to the Collector and it was directed that all the duties of the District Collector, in respect of planning, development and welfare, be entrusted to the DDC. However, the Emergency of 1975-77 brought the Collector back to the forefront with a bang.

The government issued orders that the position of 1955 be restored. The peculiar situation during the emergency needed a strong bureaucracy and the Collector was also made responsible for the implementation of the 20-Point Programme.

During the Janata era, J.P Narayan and Morarji Desai promised strengthening of the village government.

This led to the appointment of the Asoka Mehta Committee in 1977. The committee laid great emphasis on strengthening the Panchayati Raj institutions. J.P. Narayan felt that eventually the District Collector would disappear or, at most, continue as a representative of the state government. However, while dreaming of self-reliant villages, the committee completely overlooked an important characteristic of Indian village life.

It forgot that, if the benefits have to reach the poorest of the poor, adequate safeguards in the form of a guardian governmental functionary have to be provided. The Panchayati Raj institutions continued to be dominated by the privileged village population and little benefit accrued to those who were really needy.

The return of the Congress to power in 1980 restored the balance once again in favour of the Collector. Several key programmes were introduced and the Collector was made responsible for their implementation. Of the 20 points, in Bihar, the District Officer was made responsible for the implementation of 14, such as IRDP, irrigation, drinking water supply, family planning, civil supplies etc.

However, the constitutional amendment and the enactments on Panchayati Raj by various state in 1993 and early 1994 have reduced the burden of the Collector in regard to development activities.

Functions of the Collector

A few other important functions of the Collector are given below in brief:

1. He functions as the District Census Officer responsible for the conduct of census operations once in 10 years.

2. He acts as the Chief Returning Officer for elections to Parliamentary and State Legislative Assembly constituencies and coordinates the election work at the district.

3. He acts as the official representative of the government during ceremonial functions in the district.

4. He handles the protocol work during the visits of VIP dignitaries.

5. He supervises the working of the municipalities in the district.

6. He ensures that there is no shortage of essential commodities and food supplies.

7. He maintains regular contact with the military authorities in the district. 9. He compiles and submits the annual administrative report of the district.

10. He deals with personnel matters of the district staff.

11. He undertakes regular tours of the district, sometimes in remote villages, meeting people, listening to their grievances and generally acting as the intermediary between the government and the people.

The saying that the "tent is mightier than the pen" was probably coined to impress upon the Collector the need to mix with the common people and develop sympathy for their problems. It is emphasized today also. In days and 70 nights in a year, in a revenue year, he has to perform 50 to 60 ordinary inspections and 20 special village inspections and one Sub-Divisional Office inspection each year.