Objective and methodology of the research adopted

Motivation and purpose

The origin of this study goes back to the authors jointly spending about four years during 2012-2015 in the Lai Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), India’s apex public administrative training institution. Since 1959, this National Academy in India has taken great care to train officers of the Indian Administrative Services in the areas of law, land, language, elections, and development, along with a fairly long district attachment such that the Officer Trainees are well trained to effectively discharge their duties as the administrative head of a district, a critical institution of public service in India.

Similar efforts are also made by the state-level administrative training institutions for training young officers of the state. During our visit to over 50 districts across the country, speaking to the DMs and our interactions with other key stakeholders gave us interesting insights. While the young administrative service officers take charge of the district with great enthusiasm and expectations to make their district a model district in public service, they often find themselves fighting an uphill battle for most of their tenure. Even practitioners involved in policy planning visiting LBSNAA as “guest faculty” had shared a similar opinion.

It is observed that most District Collectors or District Magistrate appear to function on an ad hoc, fire-fighting mode than in a systematic, planned manner. In such circumstances, a District Magistrate (DM) can easily be bogged down with the diverse array of issues, functions, and committees in the district. Depending on the bureaucratic legacy of a state, the titles of District Magistrate and District Collector are used but they mean the same and are used interchangeably here.5

Without deep understanding of various dynamics of issues in the district, it is impossible for a young DM to balance people’s expectations and the government’s policy execution in the district effectively. Despite these challenging situations, many of them through their grit, determination, and noble intent initiated very useful programs in the district during their tenure. However, unfortunately, most of their initiatives do not last after the protagonist (DM) moves out of his/ her respective district. Interacting with several DMs, senior officials, or bureaucrats in the national and state government(s), trainers at the National Academy and analysis of various reports and studies on public systems management, in general, and district administration, in particular, compelled us to understand the complex phenomenon and provide some theoretical basis and practical ways to the district administration for the overall improvement of public system management in India.

The purpose of the study was threefold. First, to understand the challenges of district administration and to scientifically codify the methods and processes adopted by some dynamic DMs who managed to work well in such situations; to discover whether the methods and approaches used by the DMs were in line with some of the existing theoretical frameworks of public administration or were they different from the standard frameworks.

Second, to understand the systemic challenges in public systems management in the country, the theoretical frameworks of public administration provided so far, and if these impeded the imagination, functioning, and performance of district administration, a critical pillar of public administration and governance in India.

Third, to determine whether we could propose a theoretical framework of district administration aligned with the constitutional provisions of the country, consistent with evolving principles of large complex public or open systems management such that public administration, in general, and district administration, in particular, can lead to sustainable districts in India and in other countries too.

Research methodology

Our research for this included very detailed case studies of two districts (a rural and an urban), discussion with senior bureaucrats working in the state (province) governments and national (federal) government, direct involvement in policy making within the national government and the state government, and training and interactions with bureaucrats in the nodal training institute in India for over ten years. This was followed up by a review of literature on theoretical framework for public administration, in general, and district administration in particular. All these were backed up by action research for over 15 years on holistic development in three districts of India: at the level of the basic unit of governance in India, viz., Gram Panchayat (GP), that requires a high level of coordination with respective communities, local administration and district administration, and some level of coordination at the level of state administration.

The detailed study of each district included study of the context, management of district under the leadership of the District Magistrate (DM), development schemes in the district, and a sample survey of beneficiaries of key schemes and their perception on general district administration. Table 1.5 provides the specific issues covered under each factor of the case study.

The two cases included two distinct districts (and their respective DMs) that have shown exemplary administration in the district, i.e., an urban district of Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state in the central part of India, and a rural district of Osmanabad, in the hinterland of Maharashtra in the western part of India. In each of these district case studies, four cases, two on handling tough law and order situations and another two on developmental roles of administration, were taken up for analysis.

One may argue that India has 739 districts as of 2020 and therefore how could the two districts represent the patterns of district administration across the country? However, the multidimensional and multilevel approach that we have adopted with an in-depth study including action research over a decade would help in detecting patterns of district administration. The researchers made several

Table 1.5 Key Factors and Specific Issues Studied in Each Case Study

Key Factor

Specific Issues Studied

1 Context of the district

  • • A brief geography, history, and culture of the district
  • • District background at the beginning of the protagonist’s tenure in the district (demography, economic, social, political, and environmental status)
  • • Unique features of the district
  • • A brief on the protagonist (DM) and his/her tenure in the district

2 Management of district office under the leadership of the DM

• Challenges encountered in (law and order, land issues, elections, media briefings, departmental coordination within the district and outside,

VIP visits to district, development project implementation, etc.) and how they were overcome

  • • Time management for meeting and coordination of activities/work in the district
  • • Focus areas in general administration and development work
  • • Systems and processes adopted to improve general administration and implementation of development schemes

3 Development schemes implemented in the district

  • • List of schemes and budget
  • • Coordination mechanisms of the various committees in the district
  • • Principles of prioritization in implementation of schemes
  • • Methods of implementation of key schemes

4 Sample survey of beneficiaries of key schemes and their perception on general district administration

  • • To assess the motivation levels of subordinates and staff in the district and on ground
  • • To assess the impact of development schemes on the people wherever the schemes have been implemented
  • • To assess the perception of people and different stakeholders on the overall improvement in the administration and the sustainability of the district

rounds of visit to the districts, shadowed the DMs continuously for over eight days, and interacted with the DMs for several hours during a study period of about two years. Additionally, these districts were initially sounded out by program directors of mid-career training programs at LBSNAA.

Moreover the authors have been part of the nodal training institute where the District Magistrates (DMs) are offered standard training modules on land, law and order, language, development schemes, and leadership prior to their taking charge of respective districts and on completion of their tenure as DMs in their respective districts. The authors have also been insiders to policy making, both at the state government level and the national (federal) government level. We hope the intense triangulation of observations and findings at different levels of administration and in different settings facilitate the discovert' of general patterns of district administration across the country.

We also observe that the evolution of practices in the public systems domain has traveled back and forth from an organization (efficiency) perspective and an institutional (effectiveness) perspective. The scholarship in this domain has also mixed the administration (institutional) perspective with the management science perspective and has evolved over time. In this book, we look at the coordination of public systems not from a narrow sense of organizational perspective or institutional perspective of administration, but from a broader sense of coordination and alignment of principles, policies, processes, and methods in sustainable functioning of open, large, complex, public systems.

Accordingly, the title of the book is critical perspective of public systems management in India: through the lens of district administration. However, to be able to connect to the readers in public administration in general, we shall use the terms “public administration” and “district administration” in most of the book before we finally bring in the concept of “public systems management” from the all interacting systems science perspective.

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