Essay on the District Administration and Democratic Role of the District Collector in Panchayati Raj

1. To make a critical review of the existing scenarios of district administration and Panchayati Raj and to bring out a critical assessment of the emerging trends and their impact on the district administration,

2. To examine the functional linkages between the political leadership (the Legislative and the Panchayati Raj) and the executive bureaucracy at the district level with special reference to the role of district collector.

3. To attempt an overview of the changing role of the District Collector and his functional relationship with the existing and the emerging political leadership, broadly identify the areas, the issues and the concerns which have an impact on the process of devolution of powers to PRIs.

Andhra Pradesh

The Collector and District Magistrate have been recognised as the most important official in the district.

He has extensive jurisdiction over the revenue matters, despite the fact that lately most of his developmental functions offset his earlier pre-eminence due to the energisation of Panchayati Raj, following the 73rd Constitution Amendment. There are over 65 departments in the district and their functional head is the District Collector.

As regards the Panchayat Administration, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), assisted by a Deputy CEO, looks after the Development Administration in the district.

These two officials seek the guidance of District Collector in tight situations although they are answerable to the 21a Parishad. Recently, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has devolved certain development functions (as listed in the 11th Schedule of the constitution) as well as financial powers to PRIs (as per the recommendations of the State Finance Commission). The collector reviews the implementation of schemes/programmes of various departments in the district in various for and provides suggestions and necessary guidance.

Besides, he heads over 100 committees and convenes equivalent number of meetings in a month or so for review, supervision, control and inter-departmental coordination and to provide guidance in implementation of schemes/programmes/works implementation.

The collector undertakes tours for not less than 20 days a month for various purposes like inspection of works/ schemes/work spots, surprise visits, to conduct review meetings with various officials during field visits, for attending functions and receive VIPs and VVIPs.

The perceptions of the elected representatives are : (i) As against 29 subjects listed under the XI schedule of the Indian Constitution most of the subjects are with the collector and in fact his approval is required for all important schemes/ works;

(ii) Since all powers are concentrated in CM's office at state level in similar vein all powers are concentrated at district level in collector's office;

(iii) As more and more programmes are added every year, the collector is paying more attention to the welfare oriented programmes than the regular functions; (iv) The collector exercises control over gram panchayats by different ways as District Panchayat Officer;

(v) All developmental programmes should be transferred to 21a Parishad and an IAS officer of the rank of collector with revenue background should be appointed as the Chief Executive Officer; (vi) The schemes to be taken up in the district are mostly decided in the Standing Committee Meetings of the Zila Parishad.

Since MLAs and MPs participate in District Development Review Committees (DDRC) meetings, they should not be given representation in E (Zila Parishad) and MP (Mandal Parishad) meetings; (vii) the collector is still powerful in district administration by virtue of his position, place and role in district administration.

The general feeling prevailing among the PR leadership is that the bureaucracy is not favorably inclined to share more powers with the PRIs; (viii) The collector should be detached from the PP. theatre and the DRDA brought under the fold of the 21a Parishad; (ix) The elected representatives felt that the grievance cell in the collectorate is a good arrangement and by and large it has been working well; and (x) The non- officials strongly felt that the elected leaders of all hues should have access to all records, files, for scrutiny by them to have better inputs and perceptions of all the ongoing schemes and works.

All in all, the collector in Andhra Pradesh wields tremendous influence over the district administration, whether it is maintenance/regulatory or developmental.

Gujarat

The Collector is no longer responsible for a major part of the development activities in the district since the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was enacted.

In Gujarat state, there is a separate equivalent cadre IAS officer post created for development works. However, the District Planning Board was introduced during 1980 and the minister is the chairman, the collector is the vice-chairman even today. Day to day administrative reforms have been redefined, naturally the role and responsibilities also would be modified.

Under the New Panchayat Act of Gujarat 1993 followed by 73rd Amendment, the Collector has been entrusted with powers of village panchayats for recovery of land revenue. He is responsible for overseeing the execution of development schemes for the welfare of SCs/STs including the implementation of Scheduled Areas Act.

The collector has control over the panchayat employees. This means the role of collector in PRIs cannot be considered in isolation. In the capacity as revenue officer, general administrator and district coordinator always is to be called kingpin of the district in Gujarat. The collector has no role in DRDA administration, in some other states the collector is the Chairman of the DRDAs.

The role of collector in Gujarat virtually remains the same as it was at the introduction of PR in 1961. Even though major sectoral departments have been transferred to PRIs, collector receives funds under the plan schemes, scheduled areas and other welfare activities including MP LAD, MLA LAD funds and he also supervises the schemes administered by the state government directly. With all these, the collector's role in PR administration is extremely limited in the present set-up of PR in Gujarat.

Karnataka

In Karnataka, the position of District Collector, called the Deputy Commissioner (DC), has undergone a sea-change since the late 80s. He is expected to look into maintenance of land records, administering the land matters, collection of land revenue and other government duties in the district.

Besides, as District Magistrate, he is also expected to look after maintenance of law and order, conduct of elections, Census, supervisory work on all the State Government Departments in the district.

The Collector is vested with ample powers as the District Magistrate to administer the law and order situation under Criminal Procedure Code. The Karnataka Land Revenue Act and Rules, provides powers to administer the Land Administration in the district.

The DC has got to play a major role in implementation of various socio economic programmes of the state such as O.A.P, P.H.P, D.W.P. Ashraya, Neralubhagya schemes etc. DC has derivative powers under land acquisition act and Karnataka Land Reforms Act.

As far as simulative functions are concerned, the role of DC is very limited. He works as an arbitrator between the government and general public in fixing the land value, and receiving public petition.

It is generally believed that the Deputy Commissioner wields enormous financial powers as the finances flow to the Collector's office. With the office of the CEO in the district, major funding from several departments is absolutely nil.

It was opined that the collector by virtue of his position need not be the CEO of the district and that a separate officer can do justice to the developmental activities that have multiplied over the years.

The role of the DC in the field of PRIs is merely restricted to certain activities like conduct of free and fair elections, recruitment of personnel etc. For effective supervision and implementation of the various developmental activities/programmes in PRIs, exclusively a senior official, as at present, was favoured.

In respect to collector's interaction with other elected representatives and officials it was reported that the DC generally interacts with the CEO, the local MLAs and MPs more rather than the PRI elected representatives.

Punjab

The district bureaucracy and its structures in Punjab were conceived since long. The head of district administration has been the collector/deputy commissioner. As the Collector he heads the district revenue administration.

In his capacity as the district magistrate, he is in overall charge of law and order administration in the district. Also he has been entrusted and involved in various developmental and welfare functions.

As a chief executive of the district, he has become the head of development administration. Thus, he discharges the multifarious functions. His role as collector, deputy commissioner, district magistrate and developmental administrator has become pivotal.

In spite of innumerable responsibilities and functions which the collector has been called upon to discharge, it must be said that the collector has done well so far; and has been able to provide coordinating leadership required for the speedy and effective developmental and responsive administration in the district.

As far as the role of the collector in the functioning of panchayats after the implementation of 73rd Constitutional Amendment is concerned, most of the elected representatives of the district panchayat felt that there has not been any discernible change. They opined that the collector is fully in-charge of PR in the district.

As per the financial powers of the collector in the district, the officials 'opined that the collector can sanction works to the panchayat union worth up to rupees five lakhs. They felt that the collector might be useful in the Zila Parishad administration.

At the same time, they do not want to have a separate IAS officer for the panchayat administration. At the time of settling down disputes and disagreements in the functioning of panchayats this can be only controlled by the officers belonging to IAS cadre.

Tamil nadu

The major change, which took place in the district administration in the light of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, is introduction of district panchayat in the place of district development council.

The present system abolished the linkage existing between the three-tier panchayats by providing direct elections to the panchayat union councils and to the district panchayats. However, the district collector continues to be the Inspector of the Panchayats.

Out of three-tier panchayats the village panchayats are being empowered to undertake works relating to any developmental activity, maintenance and electrical. However, the panchayats are advised to obtain administrative and technical sanction from the competent authorities.

The government has stipulated that the administrative sanction of the collector/inspector is required for particular scheme or particular fund above a particular limit. The regulatory functions of the district administration are being changed very recently.

The post of Divisional Development Officers (DDOs) is being abolished as they did not find a place in the present three-tier system of panchayat administration.

The functions handled by the DDOs are transferred to the Block Development Officers (BDOs) as the controlling mechanism below the district level. Simultaneously, the office of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is also being completely delinked from the present system. In Tamil Nadu, the opinion of the public on the role of the collector in development administration is rather poor. The role of the collector in Panchayati Raj administration is the subject of great controversy.

The underlying mechanism here is that the collector is responsible for a very vast area and has considerable scope for exercising control, power, influence and authority. Either, the collector is good or bad, the destiny and welfare of the people remains a million dollar question. It appears that the changes that are sweeping all over the state have far-reaching effects on the institutional structure of local administrative system of governance.

West Bengal

In West Bengal (WB) the District Magistrate has three roles. One is to assist the Zila Parishad in formulating policies and programmes, and in seeing to their implementation. The second is the control over such body of bureaucracy as are transferred to the Zila Parishad.

The third is to assist the Zila Parishad in the exercise of its general powers, i.e., under Section 163, to supervise the Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats in the district. In practice, however, very few District Magistrates perform these demanding roles as Executive Officers of Zila Parishad.

Most of them have little time for Zila Parishad on the plea that their time is consumed by law and order functions, protocol duties, committee meetings and all other residual functions that go by the name of 'general administration1.

District Magistrate combines three roles as collector (Revenue Collection), District Magistrate (law and order) and as the Executive Officer, Zila Parishad for development.

To sum up, the ambience of the district administration still is the presence of collector as an institution. The present role of the District Collector is tempered by the winds of development administration and all the more increasing role of Zila Parishad in the process of planning and management of rural development programmes. The merger of DRDA with Zila Parishad has strengthened the position of the Zila Parishad in development administration.

The District Magistrate has to reckon with the new trends of increasing emphasis on Zila Parishad playing key role in the development process. It does not mean the position of District Magistrate lost its importance as administrative power centre.

There are a large number personnel working under him or accountable to him. Ultimately his leverage in the development administration springs from this factor of being the head of the implementing departments/agencies.