The sprout of good governance hinges on a pedestal supported by the district administration. Polices are chalked out at federal and provincial levels but are implemented at district and sub divisional/tehsil levels. Even the well thought out policies fail to make a positive impression in the absence of a well-equipped district administrative setup.
Our district administrative setup is not a product of Colonial era as the roots of this system stretche back to the time immemorial when the concept of city states evolved in the Indian subcontinent. Englishmen just legislated upon this system apart from changing the nomenclature of the offices. During the colonial era, this system delivered well and more often than not proved to be an essential “one stop” office for redress of public grievances. It was due to this very reason that the "Mai Baap" culture got so deeply embedded in our nostalgic memoirs. District Magistrate was considered to be the sole deliverer at the district level, the first autonomous governance setup at the grassroots level. However, since the independence of Pakistan, setups of District administration and District Magistrate had a topsy-turvy drive till 1996 as several of their functions got transferred to Judiciary in the name of Constitution obligation of Article 175 (3) which says that judiciary should be separated from the executive. What remained after the separation, were hundreds of regulatory tasks which were executive as well as quasi-judicial in nature. District Magistrate of the Colonial era was gone for good and its place was taken up by a District Magistrate who was no longer a judicial officer but an administrative officer bound to deliver service to the common man through some more than eight hundred odd local and special laws and regulatory functions. Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its landmark judgments of 1996/97, gave accent to this setup.
Nevertheless, rightfully though, the baboo of the Colonial era got transformed in an official of state who was to be responsible for effective service delivery to the common man through local and special laws dealing with all the problems and service delivery matters. However, that newly formed office of District Magistrate was also abolished in 2001 and District Magistrate was made DCO (District Coordination Officer) who was responsible for coordinating with different district offices instead of providing service delivery.
After the promulgation of Civil Administration Ordinance 2016, the office of DCO has been redesigned as Deputy Commissioner albeit the office of District Magistrate hasn't been restored yet. The Civil Administration Ordinance is regulatory in nature and district officers are required to perform several regulatory tasks. For example ACs and ADCGs are asked to check drug stores, fine eateries, check smuggling of different items, negotiate with protesters and apprehend quakes etc. There is a never ending list of these regulatory tasks. However, these officers are forced to do all the stuff without any legal authority. Resultantly, officers of district administration are left with no choice but to cut a sorry figure in courts. Even police support is not always forthcoming as they do regulatory tasks which are not legally vested in them. Office of District Magistrate which was created after the separation of judiciary from the executive had the answers to all the issues. In that system, officers of District administration were empowered to take cognizance and to try all these issues through more than eight hundred local and special laws passed by the parliaments. Since the British era, our parliaments have legislated hundreds of local and special laws dealing with all these and many other issues affecting the lives of all and sundry. There are local and special laws which deal with consumer rights, health, adulteration of food and drugs, law and order, maintenance of peace, municipal and developmental regulations, environment protection, public nuisance, land encroachment, animal rights, weights and measures etc. as per four Chapters of PPC (Pakistan Penal Code) and more than eight hundred local and special laws. You name any service and there is a law for it. In 2016 alone, the Punjab government has passed a dozen of local and special laws ranging from regulating marriage functions to legislating on female rights.
All we need is to go back into history and revive the offices of District Magistrate along with Executive Magistracy that existed prior to 2001 and was made to serve the people in 1996 after the separation of executive from judiciary. Currently, all these eight hundred plus local and special laws are held in abeyance due to the absence of the office of District Magistrates, Sub divisional Magistrates and Executive Magistrates. Not only the officers are left with no choice but to take the illegal actions in the absence of Executive Magistracy but also the people of this land of the pure are suffering. Parliaments and governments have done their job well by legislating on different issues of the common man. Now, it is the right time to enable the District Administrations by equipping them with the authority of solving all issues of the common man through these laws as no responsibility can ensue without requisite authority. Otherwise, all the well thought out polices of the federal and provincial governments would go in vain. Elections are just around the corner and it is better to ring the bells of servitude to the man in the street now instead of wringing the hands to the triumphant then.
(The writer is assistant commissioner, Gilgit)