Governance
Former and current IAS officers speak to TNM after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister announced two new districts on Thursday.
Facebook/CollectorMadurai

Tamil Nadu government announced the creation of two more new districts on Thursday. Newest in the line of districts are Tirupathur and Ranipet, carved out of erstwhile Vellore district.

The announcement was made by Edappadi K Palaniswami, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, in his Independence Day speech in Chennai. He said that the decision has been taken pursuant to the requests from the people living in those areas and for administrative convenience.

Since January 2019, five new districts have been announced by the government of Tamil Nadu. Kallakurichi (Villupuram), Chengalpattu (Kanchipuram) and Tenkasi (Tirunelveli) are the other three new districts which have been added to the list recently. Though the reason constantly cited for such announcements is administrative convenience, people who have been at the centre of such reforms, the IAS officers in the state, stand divided in their opinion on the decision.

Ease of access

The common point that bureaucrats put forward when asked about the concept of dividing bigger districts into smaller ones is that it improves access between the District administration and the people.

“The smaller the district is, closer the administration can get to the people,” says a young Tamil Nadu-based IAS officer, on the condition of anonymity. “It also makes it easier for the officers to visit the remote villages in the district. When the district is small, the officers can focus more on development and in better implementation of schemes. Grievances also can be redressed faster. If it is a big district, it becomes very tough to visit places that are far away,” he adds.

G Santhanam, a retired IAS officer agrees that the creation of new districts is to be welcomed. “It is a welcome development because it helps the people to access the District Collector easily. It definitely helps,” he says.

State government support must for all-round development

The new move, will meanwhile come with its own set of riders, cautions another young IAS officer from Tamil Nadu.

“Creation of new districts is great. But the government should also reconsider the amount of manpower that must be deputed to the new district to bring it up to par with a well-governed district. The reduction in geographical area must be supported with the right number of officers so that well-rounded development can happen,” the officer says.

Drawing parallels with that of Telangana which created 17 new districts overnight in 2016, the officer adds that Tamil Nadu government has made a better decision by announcing new districts in smaller numbers and in phases. “The districts so far created before 2019, have all got their own infrastructure needed for efficient administration. Now the government has announced five new districts which will get enough time and resources to build infrastructure necessary to aide good governance,” the officer adds.

Revamping administrative structure crucial

However, there is also the opinion that a revamp of administrative structure in Tamil Nadu is long overdue.

Speaking to TNM, MG Devasahayam, a former bureaucrat said that the system of having District Collectors has failed since the officer is burdened with overseeing a lot of things. He also emphasized the need to have an intermediate zone-level officer to whom five or six district collectors can report.

“All 37 Collectors will now virtually be functioning in isolation. They have to deal directly with higher level officials in Chennai. Because of that I think there is a huge gap in service,” he said adding that the concept of Collector was a pre-independence idea in which they were just tasked with the duty of collecting land revenue.

“It then evolved into maintaining law and order in the area allotted to them. Now the responsibilities of the Collector have become very diverse,” he adds.

Explaining that the government of Tamil Nadu must soon establish a comprehensive model of administration and set up intermediate officers, he said that the vacuum between district level officers and higher-level bureaucrats in Chennai enables petty politicians to interfere and aide corruption.  

Tamil Nadu’s administration is tried and tested

Not everybody agrees with this view though.

The young IAS officer says that this concept of having an intermediary supervisor already exists in a few other states in India. “They are called Divisional Commissioners and they supervise the administration of 5-6 districts in a state. Tamil Nadu’s system has always been like this. And I think it is working fine,” he says.

Santhanam IAS meanwhile says that the states that have Divisional Commissioners don’t seem to be delivering services any more efficiently than Tamil Nadu does.

“It is only the Collector who is responsible for everything that happens in the district. The people look up to the Collector. He or she is the one who delivers,” he points out. Emphasizing that the current system of designating the district Collector as the highest official in the district is tried and tested in Tamil Nadu, he says, “We have a system of functional commissioners for revenue administration, civil supplies etc in our state which is working very well. They go to the districts in case of problems and help the Collector solve it. So, I think this is a better system than having divisional commissioners. This is also a tried and tested system of administration which has been very successful,” he explains.