A district magistrate, often abbreviated to DM, is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who is the senior most executive magistrate and chief in charge of general administration of a district in India. Since district magistrates are responsible for collection of land revenue in the district, the post is also referred to as the district collector, and as the office-bearer works under the supervision of a divisional commissioner, the post is also known as deputy commissioner.
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 a 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 (SP), inspector general of jails, the surgeon general, the divisional forest officer (DFO) and the chief engineer (CE) 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 Service, 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 the 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 of India's development programs in the district.
They are posted by the state government, from among the pool of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, who either are on Level 11, Level 12 or Level 13 of the Pay Matrix, in the state. The members of the IAS are either directly recruited by the Union Public Service Commission, promoted from State Civil Service (SCS) or nominated from Non-State Civil Service (Non-SCS). 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 deputy secretary or director 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, generally involving the following:
A district magistrate is assisted by some IAS and state civil servants for carrying out day-to-day work in various fields:-