Administration-management perspective of the DM

Our study on the role of a DM in India and the characteristic abilities one must possess to succeed in such a role has also brought to the forefront many of the limitations and challenges that one must possess in this position within the larger framework of Indian public administration. In our interviews with Nishant Warwade, he identified two broad but pertinent issues that DMs across India had to contend with:

  • (a) Maintenance of law and order while ensuring public safety: Maintenance of law and order and safety in a district is the biggest challenge of District Magistrate. He/she had to pay constant attention to problems arising out of communal disharmony, social and political tensions, caste problem, economic offences, terrorism, and smuggling which may intimidate peace and order in the district and safety of its people.
  • (b) Facilitating development work and coordinating with multiple agencies: As the prima facie CEO of a district, a DM thus has to play a multitude of roles and manage multiple departments. When discussing the nature of DM-ship in India Shri Padamvir Singh, a reputed bureaucrat, expressed his opinion that the span of control of DMs must be reorganized and suggested that their specific tasks be highlighted to optimize their efficiency. According to the principles of management, the effective span of control for one manager is around five to six people, but a DM has to take care of tenfold that number. He said:

A DM has got so many things under him, such as 200 committees are headed by him and he is under tremendous pressure.

The government needs to be very clear on what they want from a District Collector. Tell him where to focus. There is an overall need to create a Framework on what the priorities of DM are. Then of course second step is how it’s going to be assessed if these are the priorities, what you are going to look at and measure if you want to do something in performance management, performance assessment, etc. The problem is —government has not fixed any specific duties for the DM then how will it review his/her performance?

The absence of guideline makes them do whatever they think, and they want to do. I feel the answer lies first in having fixed job description, like in any other organization. It is the basic thing. If that is clear then the man can tell you what he is supposed to do, whatever he writes that is his duties, you have not told him anything so there is that missing element somewhere. So, the DM fellows keep responding to whatever come their way - keeps running. He is moving from one crisis to another fire-fighting, handling all the pressure from different sides.

Even with the mantra of “less government, more governance,” DMs in India continue to contend with political interference and deep-rooted corruption through every arm of the government and bureaucracy. This can often lead to frustration with the system, and in some cases, succumbing to such pressures.

DMs tend to see their role from the organizational perspective, where the government in power or the executive branch is the organization to which the DMs are accountable. In other words, the DM and the district administration functions at the will of the Chief Minister and the government in power and seem to be less answerable to the legislature and judiciary and have little time to reflect on the constitutional provisions, values, and principles. It is presumed that the Chief Minister, council of ministers, and the senior bureaucrats are supposed to follow the constitutional provisions. The DM is more answerable to the higher up authorities than to the people who they are supposed to serve.

A DM, however, has a lot of leg room to play around to do many good things as per the constitutional provisions and principles. Some of the DMs, as in this case, went out of the way from the normal day-to-day pressures of the “government of the day” to fulfill other constitutional obligations without compromising the orders from the higher-ups.

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