Administration in the District

Administering Districts

More than the re-organisation of states, it is important to re-organise the 700 existing districts and multiply them by four times for the purposes of administrative viability, their specific development needs, as well as for self-governance.

It is the British who formed the districts as administrative units in all the territories under their direct rule. Their formation was mostly based on their historical situations and military, revenue and administrative viability. After independence too, in the interests of consolidating national integrity, the central authorities in New Delhi have held them intact, as they have been, except in rare cases. Jawaharlal Nehru used to write a letter every month to the district collectors sharing his concerns.

Now, more than the re-organisation of the states, it is important to re-organise the 700 existing districts and multiply them by four times for the purposes of administrative viability, their specific development needs, as well as for self-governance. Beyond that, probably, it would be a vain desire, at this stage to envisage any new grouping of villages and towns, cutting across the present state borders, while assuring the active presence of all the three tiers of administration- central, state and local. Recently, the chief minister of Telangana has further sub-divided his newly-formed state into a number of smaller districts, which is good.

i).The Revenue Department, as it was designed by the British rulers, has been a very old and venerable organ of state power. Headed by the Collector, it virtually reins over the rural space, with an army of VRAs, VROs, Mandal or Tehsil officers, RDOs and Joint Collectors. Their management of feudal heritage of public and private lands has been chaotic, arbitrary and inefficient. All land transactions are a source of perpetual confusion, uncertainty, disputes, litigation, corruption and delays. The whole life of a rural citizen hovers around the revenue offices.

It is time to wind up the Revenue Department and the office of Registration and Stamps. Instead, a commissioner of land administration, with the use of Blackchain technologies, can perform the function in a transparent and verifiable manner.

It is time now that we wind up the Revenue Department as well as the office of Registration and Stamps. Instead, a commissioner of land administration, with the use of Blackchain technologies can be charged to complete the surveys, conduct the settlements, and register the land transactions, in a manner that is transparent and verifiable by everybody. In such a case, no property-titles, Non-Encumbrance certificates, etc. are to be issued. Private land transactions are contracts, and their registrations can be processed by panels of Notaries who attest to the authenticity of documents and ensure the payment of charges, duties and taxes to the treasury. The department dealing with disaster management should have a district centre for training and equipping a permanent corps of volunteers and local NGOs to fight against all kinds of disasters and pollution.

ii).The District Collector and Magistrate has been a glamorous job during the British rule for which the youth from the aristocratic British families came after passing tough competitive examinations in London, and most of them possessed an innate taste for adventure and robust curiosity. They rode miles and miles on horse-back and camped in far off and remote places so as to discover the entire region and to bring it into a one single viable administrative fold. It was a blessing in disguise that the colonial rule suppressed all internal internecine quarrels and fights among the small tribal chieftains and rajahs and taught them about the virtues of unity. The British and the French had done the same thing in Africa, which was hitherto a land of independent tribes. In India, they helped to discover its buried past, its historical events, its languages, its heroes, etc. with passion. They were, of course, known for their pompous and lordly lifestyles, modelled by the vice-regal pomp and pageantry in New Delhi.

What is needed is a mechanism of District Coordinator rather than a chief to harmonise and devolve activities of the Panchayati Raj institutions.

After independence too, the Collector continued to be a local ‘satrap’. Though he collects nothing, he distributes a lot of money allotted for other departments. He wields excessive and concentrated power. Now, the post deserves to be radically de-glamourised so that people do not look at it with awe as the power-centre, which is the case in the rural areas. S/he need not, anymore, exercise authority to consolidate the work of all the departments, and perform judicial and Police functions also. S/he is over-burdened with having to preside over more than 200 committees dealing with all the departments. Since, he is very scrupulous, there is no practice of delegation of power to his subordinates. Now, there is no reason that he should be more powerful than the head of any other department or the elected person at the Zilla Parishad under the Panchayati Raj. Recently, the chief minister of Telangana has announced that he would call him a District Administrative Officer. However, what we need is a coordinator and not a chief to stimulate the activities of all the departments operating in the district, and harmonise, if possible with the devolved activities of the Panchayati Raj institutions. Another alternative in order to meet the above objective is to make every departmental head, by rotation the district chief coordinator.

However, there is still a definite role for the present District Collector cum Magistrate model in several remote border areas and in other troubled-spots, where he should act as governor’s or even president’s resident representative, as much as a governor in a state.

At the local level, it is superfluous to have, both elected representatives and selected administrative or technical persons working in two distinct and parallel roles to attend to the same functions with remuneration.

iii).Third-Tier of Governance: At present, along with the Collector, the MLAs and the MPs are over-whelming the local self-governing bodies with their dominating presence and this fact alone is preventing the growth of genuine non-political local leadership. Further, since the 73rd and 74thAmendments to our Constitution, many of the functions, functionaries, and funds have to be transferred to the local bodies from the state departments. Instead, at present, every ruling party in government is arranging to have departmental committees filled with its own party-persons, outside the local elected members. While making a complete transfer of functions, the state may for better coordination appoint the present Collector as the ex-officio chief executive officer in the Zilla Parishad office. As far as the staff for both rural and urban local bodies is concerned, one common recruitment commission may be envisaged for attracting the local talent from the local market on contractual terms.

iv).In the long term, at the local level, it might be superfluous to have, both elected representatives as well as selected administrative or technical person working as two distinct and parallel roles to attend to the same functions with remuneration. In small local bodies, we can elect key officers, or subject the appointed officers to democratic control, and dispense with ward members and councilors. Thereby, we can be more efficient at the local level by usefully reducing the ‘public servants’ to half of the present number, and consequently reduce  public expenditure considerably. Further, we can reduce delays and enhance accountability. In some US local bodies some officers are elected and in many European towns, the mayor acts as an executive head. Some experiments can be carried out in India too.

By Dr Rao VBJ Chelikani

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