Circle Officer

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Circle Officer a government functionary at the junior grade of the civil service. The creation of the office of the circle officer is associated with the Report of the Royal Commission Upon Decentralization in India (1909). In paragraphs 601 and 699-702, the Report pointed to the non-existence of a subordinate agency below the sub-divisional level in Bengal unlike other parts of India where the tahsil system was in operation at the similar level. Based on the recommendations of the Commission, the circle system was introduced in a number of selected sub-divisions of Bengal in 1911. Under this system, the unions were grouped into circles under the charge of a circle officer (CO). His main function was to supervise and guide the union boards (then known as union panchayets). A new administrative unit was thus created which was to form the basis of the present-day thana or upazila in Bangladesh.

The scheme of circle officer received full support from the Bengal District Administration Enquiry Committee (1912-13). It also recommended the setting up of circle boards, initially under the chairmanship of CO. This, however, was never set up during British rule.

The circle officer formed a vital link between the district magistrate and the rural people. The extent and nature of this link and the objectives thereof have clearly been spelled out by the enumeration of the original functions of the CO in the union board manual, as well as in the Chief Secretary's Memoranda to the Home Secretary of the Government of India, and in the letters addressed by the Governor General of India to the Secretary of State for India.

The functions of the CO, as laid down in these documents, and his place in the hierarchy of the district administration, clearly show that his responsibility was not limited to the supervision and guidance of the union boards. The CO was to be the repository of all information relating to the general welfare of the rural people in such areas as agriculture, education, health, roads and communication.

The circle system was accepted for countrywide replication in 1961 under the system of basic democracies introduced in Pakistan in 1959, which in effect provided for a local council, namely the thana council, at the same level. 413 circles were created in East Pakistan under a government order. As there were 413 thanas in East Pakistan, each thana had a CO who also became the vice-chairman of the thana council. After 1961, a separate post of revenue circle officer, popularly known as CO (revenue), was created at each thana. Their functions were limited to revenue work only. In that capacity, they exercised general supervision and control over tahsildars.

The position of the circle officer was upgraded in or about 1977, and they were designated afresh as assistant commissioners. With the introduction of the upazila system in 1984 under the administrative control of an elected chairman and the creation of the post of a government functionary designated as upazila nirbahi officer, the circle system was abolished. [AMM Shawkat Ali]