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District Collector, Magistrate, Development Commissioner: what to call an IAS officer?

GS Paper 2


Source: The Print, Indian Express

 Context: Vidhi Center for Legal Policy recently released a book titled From Rule By Law to the Rule of Law — 25 Reforms to Decolonise India’s Legal System.

Fig: District Administration in India


Role of DM/DC?

  • A District Collector supervises the matter of revenue administration in the district and a District Magistrate is the chief in charge of the general administration, also responsible for maintaining law and order
    • He/She is the Head of the land and revenue administration
  • Coordination: They coordinate with multiple departments — health, revenue, education etc. The current role helps serve development, revenue, protocol, and interdepartmental issues.
  • Power to deploy and trigger the movement of armed forces in the district in times of emergency and crisis is done under his/her guidance.
  • Power to issue licences g. Licences under Arms, Explosives, Cinematography Acts etc.
  • In some states, DM is the overall supervisory authority responsible for the proper management of jails and remand/juvenile homes in the district.
  • Success during COVID-19 management: Covid was managed well because, under the NDMA, it was the DM who had the powers.


Need to Restructure the DC/DM’s Role?

  • To remove the colonial legacy: The name of the position of the District Collector varies from place to place (as per the diverse administrative development in various British-administered India) in the country which creates confusion.
  • Uniformity in name of the position: In Punjab, Haryana and regulation districts, the preferred term is Deputy Commissioner. Though the legal terminology is always District Magistrate.
  • Devolution of power to local bodies
  • Ensure effective separation of power: In many states, DC/DM also acts as revenue judge.
    • Article 50of the Constitution states that “The State shall take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State.”
  • Considerable accumulation of power in the hands of the District Officer


Why there is a need to make the name of the position the same throughout India?

Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Bibek Debroy had worked on doing away with at least 248 redundant, outdated colonial laws.

  • He recommended the designation and role of the District Collector should be made uniform throughout the country.



  • A mere name change can’t automatically change mindsets
  • Change in the nomenclature of a DM’s post will bring confusion to the roles and in the distribution of power.


Other issues with Civil Services in India:

  • Structural Issues
    • Issue of colonial legacy: many of the structures and processes in Indian civil services still rely on colonial rules and processes e.g. Dual system of administration in Indian cities, outdated personal procedures
  • The issue with the mindset: Indian civil service is
    • Aimed at development (rather than the outcome of the policy area)
    • Committed to civil service (rather than public service),
    • Has a precedent of a follower (rather than the creator)
    • Is monopolistic (rather than competitive)
  • Status Quoist: Civil service resist change since they are wedded to their privileges and prospects e.g. lateral entry at the undersecretary level has long been fiercely opposed by Civil servants
    • Despite 73rd and 74th amendments, grass-root democracy has not given the desired result due to the reluctance of civil servants to accept changes in authority and control
  • Rule-Book Bureaucracy: This has led to issues of high-handed ‘bureaucratic behaviour’, (e.g. DM in Tripura was suspended recently for raiding a marriage party and misbehaving with guests).
    • This has also led to red-tapism, complicated procedures, and poor responses to the needs of people.
  • Political interference: This has led to issues of corruption, arbitrary transfer of honest civil servants (e.g. Haryana IAS office Ashok Khemka frequent transfer), inefficiency, institutional decline, and lack of professionalism



As per the 15th report of the 2nd ARC, it is now vital to reevaluate and redefine the district administration’s function after the constitutionally mandated establishment of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and municipal bodies.


Insta Links:

Role of Civil Services

Mains Links

Q. Discuss the various administrative reforms brought by the government recently, to encourage greater efficiency, and transparency and create corruption-free governance. (15M)