A District Magistrate (also known as District Collector or Deputy Commissioner) is an Indian Administrative Service officer who is in-charge of a district, the basic unit of administration, in India. In general parlance, they are referred to by the abbreviation DM or DC. India has 748 districts as of 2021.
Warren Hastings introduced the office of the District Collector in the Judicial Plan of 1772. By the Judicial Plan of 1774 the office of the District Collector was temporarily renamed Diwan. Sir George Campbell, lieutenant-governor of Bengal from 1871-1874, intended "to render the heads of districts no longer the drudges of many departments and masters of none, but in fact the general controlling authority over all departments in each district."
The office of a collector during the British Raj held multiple responsibilities – as collector, he was the head of the revenue organization, charged with registration, alteration, and partition of holdings; the settlement of disputes; the management of indebted estates; loans to agriculturists, and famine relief. As district magistrate, he exercised general supervision over the inferior courts and in particular, directed the police work. The office was meant to achieve the "peculiar purpose" of collecting revenue and of keeping the peace. The superintendent of police (SP), inspector general of jails, the surgeon general, the divisional forest officer (DFO) and the Executive Engineer PWD (EE) had to inform the collector of every activity in their departments.
Until the later part of the nineteenth century, no native was eligible to become a district collector. But with the introduction of open competitive examinations for the Indian Civil Service, the office was opened to natives. Romesh Chandra Dutt, Sripad Babaji Thakur, Anandaram Baruah, Krishna Govinda Gupta and Brajendranath De were the first five Indian ICS officers to become Collectors.
The district continued to be the unit of administration after India gained independence in 1947. The role of the district collector remained largely unchanged, except for the separation of most judicial powers to judicial officers of the district. Later, with the promulgation of the National Extension Services and Community Development Programme by the Nehru government in 1952, the district collector was entrusted with the additional responsibility of implementing the Government of India's development programs in the district.
The different names of the office are a legacy of the varying administration systems in British India. While the powers exercised by the officer were mostly the same throughout the country, the preferred name often reflected his primary role in the particular province. In the Bengal Presidency, the post was called District Magistrate and Collector whereas in the Bombay Presidency and Central Provinces, it was known simply as the District Collector even though he was also the District Magistrate. In the Madras Presidency, it was often known simply as Collector.
Law and order was an important subject in the United Provinces and the post continues to be known as the District Magistrate in present day Uttar Pradesh. In non-regulation provinces like Punjab, Burma, Assam and Oudh, a simpler form of administration prevailed with many elements of the Criminal Procedure Code suspended and the DM functioning as the District and Sessions Judge as well. Here the post was known as Deputy Commissioner, due to these provinces having a Chief Commissioner who took the place of the usual Governor and High Court and exercised both executive and judicial functions.
Post Independence, the Constitution of India separated the Executive from the Judiciary leading to the abolition of the criminal law jurisdiction of the DM. The Code of Criminal Procedure (India), 1973 institutionalized this. Meghalaya was the last state to implement the same in 2020. Nevertheless, the different names have continued even though the role and powers of the DM are almost the same throughout India.
They are posted by the state government, from among the pool of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, who either are on Level 11, Level 12 or Level 13 of the Pay Matrix, in the state. The members of the IAS are either directly recruited by the Union Public Service Commission, promoted from State Civil Service (SCS) or nominated from Non-State Civil Service (Non-SCS). The direct recruits are posted as collectors after five to six years of service, whereas the promoted members from state civil services generally occupy this post after promotion to the IAS, which generally happens after two decades of service. A district magistrate and collector is transferred to and from the post by the state government. The office bearer is generally of the rank of under secretary/deputy secretary or director in Government of India.
Functions and responsibilities
The responsibilities assigned to a district magistrate vary from state to state, but generally, district collectors are entrusted with a wide range of duties in the jurisdiction of the district, generally involving the following:
As District Magistrate:
- Conducts criminal court of executive magistrate.
- Maintenance of law and order.
- Co ordinates of the police .
- Supervision of subordinate executive magistracy and conduct magisterial inquiries.
- Hearing cases under the preventive section of the Criminal Procedure Code.
- Supervision of jails and certification of execution of capital sentences.
- Inspection of police stations, prisons and juvenile homes in the district.
- Authorising parole orders to inmates.
- Granting arms and ammunition licence under Arms Act.
- Prepares panel of names for appointment of public prosecutors and additional public prosecutors with consultation with session judge in district.
- Disaster management during natural calamities such as floods, famines or epidemics.
- Crisis management during riots or external aggression.
- Child Labour/bonded labour related matters.
As District Collector
- Conducts revenue court.
- Arbitrator of land acquisition, its assessment and collection of land revenue.
- Collection of income tax dues, excise duties, irrigation dues and its arrears.
- Registration of Property documents, sale deeds, power of attorneys, defacement, share certificates etc.
- Issue various kinds of statutory certificates including SC/ST, OBC & EWC, Domicile, Nationality, Marriage, etc.
- Relief and rehabilitation.
- Custodian of evacuee and migrant property
- Inspection of various district offices, sub divisions and tehsils.
While almost all of the 741 Indian districts are headed by DMs, constitutional developments post Independence in 1947 have led to a reduction in power and realignment of roles for the District Magistrate. The first major change came about in the early 1960s as the Judiciary was separated from the Executive in most Indian states in line with Article 50 of the Constitution of India. This meant that DMs and SDMs could no longer try criminal cases or commit accused to Sessions Court. Their place was taken by Chief Judicial Magistrates and Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrates. The District Magistrate was now the main Executive Magistrate of the district - charged with taking preventive measures for maintenance of law and order. Indirectly, this led to a loss of direct control over the police which now depended on the District Judge and the Judicial Magistrates. This change was institutionalized by the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. In the Union Territories and the North Eastern states, Collectors continued to exercise judicial power for much longer. A separate district judiciary was not created till 1978 in Delhi, 2008 in Mizoram, 2016 in Arunachal Pradesh and 2020 in Meghalaya. South Garo Hills District in Meghalaya, the last remaining district of India with the District Magistrate also exercising judicial powers, finally got a separate District and Sessions Court on 17th December, 2020.
Increasing urbanisation and the introduction of the Police Commissionerate system means that even the Executive Magistracy powers of the District Magistrate have been severely curtailed. Almost all large state capitals of India have a Police Commissioner who is also a District or Additional District Magistrate. In practice, these powers are then delegated to Additional and Deputy Commissioners of Police who exercise them on a day to day basis. States like Telangana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra have extended this system to all of their large cities as well. The Collector may or may not exercise concurrent Magisterial powers depending on the relevant state legislation.
Similarly, almost all large cities have a Municipal Commissioner, also an IAS officer, who is vested with all development responsibilities within the urban limits. Most Municipal Commissioners also issue miscellaneous certificates of caste, income or residence which are otherwise the domain of the Collector. An elected Mayor and Council enjoy the final say in financial matters in most Municipal Corporations. Increasing responsibilities of work and the introduction of the Panchayati Raj system has also reduced the role of the Collector in many states, even in rural areas. In Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, the Zila Parishad operates as an independent body with a separate Chairman and CEO. Essential services like health, education, sanitation and rural development are carried out without any formal role of the Collector. However, owing to his role as a co-ordinator, the Collector does facilitate the work of Zila Parishads, especially regarding statutory clearances.
Kolkata District in West Bengal is unique in not having a conventional District Collector. A recently created post with the same name performs the functions of collector of stamp revenue, registration and certain other miscellaneous functions. The Magisterial powers are exercised by a Police Commissioner, one of the earliest such posts in British India, while the Kolkata Municipal Corporation takes care of all other responsibilities. This anomaly is due to the fact that this small district in the heart of Kolkata did not have agricultural land revenue when the district administration was introduced in the late 18th century, being fully urbanised even then. However, other Presidency towns of the same era like Mumbai and Chennai do have a District Collector, albeit in a very limited role.
At the time of Partition of India, the Indian Civil Service was divided between India and Pakistan. The institution of the DC/DM remained the same in both the countries till the 2001 Devolution of Powers Scheme of President Pervez Musharraf abolished the post of the DM in Pakistan. He was replaced by an officer called the District Coordination Officer with significantly reduced powers. After 2016, almost all Pakistani provinces have reinstated the office of the DC but without the Magistracy powers which are now exercised by the Police and Judiciary. DCs in Bangladesh, however, continue to discharge their role with only minor changes in powers and authority since independence in 1971.
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