Working Papers

Organisation Through Neglect: Understanding Field Administration in India

Rashmi Sharma

State Capacity Initiative, Centre For Policy Research

March 23, 2023

This paper analyses the structure and processes of field administration in India and matches these with the outcomes on the ground. It highlights features of the administrative structure, human resources, and organisational culture that result in the sub-optimal delivery of social services and policy implementation. Recognizing the importance of historical antecedents, the paper provides a brief account of how field administration has developed over time. Subsequently, it presents the findings of a case study of a district situated in Madhya Pradesh. This is followed by a delineation of the key areas for reform and some possible strategies, though these need to be formulated after rigorous debate.

The paper traces the roots of the present-day field administration to the colonial era, when the existing decentralised and diffused field administration system was changed to achieve the government’s goals to maximise revenue from land and forests and maintain order. The district became the key administrative unit in the field, and the district collector (DC) the overall administrative head. After Independence, government goals shifted dramatically, and socio-economic development became a central concern. However, the basic administrative structure was retained, while several departmentalorganisations were added.