Dis-empowerment of the District
By Asad Jehangir
In order to understand the failure of administration, there is a need to study the history of disempowerment of civil and police services in Pakistan under the rule of both the Military dictators and the politicians. My view is that the system created by the British to administer India has been weakened over time by disempowerment of all district officers. The decision-making has gone to the provincial government and district officers are no longer in a position to provide services to the people.
The police was first emasculated immediately after the uprising in 1857. The power of police to investigate every penal offense was withdrawn. Instead the British brought into its partnership the local Zamindar and a close nexus was established between him and the state through the police and magistracy. Laws were promulgated to achieve this nexus and disempowerment of police was part of this new dispensation.
The next attack on police came from Ayub Khan who took two steps to further weaken the police. First he struck at its capacity to deal with disorder by taking away the Border Police from the province and abolishing the Provincial Reserves. Second, he severed what little links police had with the community. This was done to justify the creation of the Union Council in his infamous Basic Democracy Scheme. Two services which police provided to the community i.e. management of cattle pounds and keeping a record of births and deaths were handed over to the UC.
Ayub Khan also changed the police uniform from khaki to mazri not to improve its image but merely to emphasize the exclusivity of the army; not to reform the police but to emphasize its predatory reputation. Resultantly, the image of the police went on a slide. It was a fresh maneuver to perpetuate the policing style designed by the British in the 18th century-a corrupt and predatory police which would instill fear in the populace.
Just like the police, the DC has also been gradually disempowered. First, when the High Courts were given powers to issue writs in 1951. No longer could he hold people in custody without answering to the HC.
While in the police a DSP was sanctioned to assist the SP (larger districts got an Addl. SP as well) a decision which also had wider repercussions specially on police culture, the DC was given two Addl DCs. One, designated as ADC(Gen), looked after administration while the other designated as ADC(R) dealt with revenue administration. Just like the DSP removed the SP a step away from the working of the police station, the ADC(R) removed the DC one step away from the revenue administration.
The second blow was inflicted when the power to resolve disputes was given to the Union Council by Ayub Khan. With this dispensation the interaction of the magistrate with the community was severed. The magistrate was left with those few disputes which were referred to him by the police under the provisions of Section 150/151 CrPC.
The third blow to the powers of the DM and the magistrate came under the amendments made in CrPC in 1972 vide the much touted Law Reform. This considerably weakened the DM’s authority of oversight over criminal cases. The magistrate lost control over serious, sessions-triable cases when the Commitment Procedure was deleted from the law. The old system of police-magistracy ‘harmony’ was dealt a severe blow.
The DC was finally dealt a fatal blow by ZAB through the so called administrative reform under which the Unified Grade system placed him at the lowest rung amongst the senior management. The Secretary to the Province was two grades above him and he managed to completely takeover the control of his departmental reps in the District. The DC was no longer in a position to oversee the various departments working in the District.
The Commissioner became two grades junior to the Chief Secretary and this gradually altered the original administrative design under which the senior member of the board of revenue played an important role in keeping the Commissioner and the DC focussed on their primary task of managing the Revenue Administration.
The arrangement that emerged after the administrative reform completely disempowered the DC. Gradually, beginning with Zia, all matters dealt at the district came to be handled directly by the Provincial Secretariat. The Board of Revenue gradually assumed all the authority of the DC and made him powerless in the matters of land management.
The DC’s control over the Patwari had been considerably weakened when Ayub Khan as President and Nawab of Kalabagh as Governor deigned to continue with the colonial system of paying indulgence to their local patwaris. I distinctly recall that in 1974 when Ali Kazim, as DC Campbellpur, took some patwaris to task, there was a strike in the whole of Punjab by this predatory fraternity. It was resolved only when the felonious patwaris were reinstated by the government.
After the declaration that agriculturists with less than 12 1/2 acres of land will not be liable for payment of land revenue, the DC’s role as Collector was also over. Very few land owners had land over this limit. Those who did were beyond the sway of the DC!
So what was the role of the DC in this changed scenario? It is said that Ayub Khan had emphasized on the role of DC in development work. This was ingrained in the design of the Basic Democracy Scheme. What kind of schemes could be undertaken by the District Councils? Under the development process all schemes upwards of a given value had to be approved by the Provincial Government or the Federal Government and the funds were then allocated from there. Only small schemes could be initiated at the district level.
Ultimately, the DC’s role was that of overseeing implementation of schemes and directives. He went around checking the progress of development schemes which had been sanctioned by a government or authority far removed from the community. Schemes were ‘dispensed’ by persons in power without any input from the community. Take education for example. Having been nationalized and with administration vested in the provincial secretary, the DC no longer had the role of motivating the community to establish a school or college.
The subsequent control over development schemes, especially schools, in the hands of parliamentarians which was started by Zia to bribe them for their support, and which has now become a recognized system for development schemes is a clear indicator of the “flight of power from the district”. And we all know how this system promoted corruption and wrongdoing in the Education Department!
Taking into consideration the above measures initiated both by dictators and parliamentarians one can see quite clearly how a district model created by the British was gradually altered and powers vested in the DC were withdrawn by the Province.
Can the old model be revived? My view is that it will not happen. The politician is quite happy with a system which he can manipulate to his advantage. The judiciary is too busy asserting its independence to permit the return of the DM.
Perhaps we need to study the system of land management from a new perspective and consider replacing this much touted Sher Shah Suri creation. While designing the new nizam we should, as a first principle, consider empowering the village community. This can be done by making the village responsible for the maintenance of land record. This was after all the foundation on which Sher Shah Suri’s system was established.
In 1848, the rallying cry of the people in ousting the King was: “All power to the Commune”. The rallying cry in our case should be: “All power to the village”.
The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police