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A District Collector, often abbreviated to Collector, is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer in charge of revenue collection and administration of a district in India. Since District Collectors also have executive magisterial powers, this post is also referred to as the District Magistrate and as the office-bearer works under the supervision of a Divisional Commissioner, this post is also known as Deputy Commissioner. The Collector is assisted by Deputy Collectors, Assistant Collectors, Sub Collectors and individual tahsildars of each taluk/tashils in the district.
District Administration in India is a legacy of the British Raj. District Collectors were members of the Indian Civil Service, and were charged with supervising general administration in the district.
Warren Hastings introduced the office of the District Collector in 1772. 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 the 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, Inspector General of Jails, the Surgeon General, the Divisional Forest Officer and the Chief Engineer 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 Services, the office was opened to natives. Anandaram Baruah, an eminent scholar of Sanskrit and the sixth Indian and the first Assamese ICS officer, became the third Indian to be appointed a District Magistrate, the first two being Romesh Chandra Dutt and Sripad Babaji Thakur respectively.
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 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's development programs in the district.
They are posted by the State government, from among the pool of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers in the state. The members of the IAS are either directly recruited by the Union Public Service Commission or promoted from Provincial Civil Services (PCS). 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 Special Secretary to the State Governemt (equivalent to Deputy Secretary in Government of India).
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.
While the actual extent of the responsibilities varies from State to State, they generally involve-
As District Election Officer:
- Conducting Elections in the district, be it General, Assembly or Municipal.
- land assessment
- land acquisition
- collection of land revenue
- collection of income tax dues, excise duties, irrigation dues etc.
- distribution of agricultural loans
- Chairman of the District Bankers Coordination Committee
- Head of the District Industries Centre
As District Magistrate:
- maintenance of law and order
- supervision of the police and jails
- supervision of subordinate Executive magistracy
- hearing cases under the preventive section of the Criminal Procedure Code
- supervision of jails and certification of execution of capital sentences
- arbitrator of land acquisition
- Disaster management during natural calamities such as floods, famines or epidemics
- Crisis management during riots or external aggression
As Deputy Commissioner / District Commissioner:
- reports to Divisional Commissioner on all matters.
- acts as ex-officio chairman of the District Development Authority in absence of Divisional Commissioner, which carries out various developmental activities.
A District Magistrate and Commissioner is assisted by some IAS and PCS for carrying out day-to-day work in various fields :--
- Chief Development Officer (CDO)
- Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)/District Revenue Officer (DRO).
- Additional District Magistrate(s) (ADM) (North, West, East, South, E (Executive), F/R (Finance and Revenue), City, Judicial).
- City Magistrate (CM) and Additionally City Magistrate (ACM) (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X).
- Sub-Divisional Magistrate(s) (SDM) or Deputy Collector(s) (DC) and other Executive Magistrates.
- Other officers from other departments at district level also report to him.
- Superintendent of Police
- Additional/Joint Commissioner of Income Tax/Deputy Director of Income Tax (Criminal Investigation)
- Conservator of Forests
- His Majesty's Stationery Officer, Report of the Indian Statutory Commission (1930) Vol. I, Survey, London, pp. 286
- [Title: Indian Public Administration, Author: Arora, R.K, Goyal, R., Publisher: Wishwa Prakashan, New Delhi, 2011.]