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A Civil Service Apprentice in Abbottabad

Published : Saturday, 11 March, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 406
Ziauddin Choudhury

Lack of maintenance and protection along canal bank had resulted in narrowing of the canal, and it hinted a possibility of total silting if no action was taken. The Union Chief wanted government help in constructing a cement wall along the canal bank. I assured him that I would recommend this in my report to the Deputy Commissioner on my return-which I did. (I had no way to confirm if the canal work was undertaken by the District Council, which I had recommended, as I had to leave Abbottabad at the end of my three-month training period.)

The story of my maiden trip to a Hazara village would not be complete without the description of an unusual village meal that I shared with the village elders under a Shamiana (Canopy) at the front of the Village Chief's house. I sat on a wooden folding chair under the bright red Shamiana with the turbaned Union Council Chairman and few other village elders.

The food spread on the table consisted of baked flat bread made of cornflower (makki-ki-roti), a dish containing butter made of buffalo milk to spread on the bread, a vegetable curry made of mustard-greens (Sarson-ki-sagh), and daal made with black lentils. For drink we had lassi (a kind of milk shake), also made from buffalo milk. Simplicity of the food blended with the generosity of the village people simply overwhelmed me. At the same time I was very uncomfortable realizing that the village people could have overestimated my ability to help them with their request for help. All I could do is offer some recommendation to the DC, and let him decide.

Part of my three-month training was also to learn the intricacies of land revenue administration, which used to be core of district administration in the British days. The Deputy Commissioner had two roles rolled into one, District Magistrate and District Collector. As District Magistrate he headed the district's magistracy, which was responsible for maintaining law and order, and trial of non-serious criminal cases.

As District Collector he was responsible for collection of land revenues, administration of government lands and property in the district, settlement of land disputes, and periodic survey of land and establishment of land ownership. Even though land revenue accounted for a tiny portion of overall government income, the importance of land administration and settlement of land dispute (ownership rights and records) was such that this part of a district's management required a large staff going down to village level.

In Pakistan that time land revenue administration had a hierarchy that consisted of the Deputy Commissioner in the district (as Collector), followed by Assistant Commissioner in a sub-division (also known as Sub-Divisional Magistrate) who supervised several Tehsilders (in charge of a Tehsil), and who in turn managed the Patwaries-the village potentate for land related matters.

In my second month of training I was required to spend two weeks in a sub-division under the tutelage of the Assistant Commissioner mainly learning the ropes of revenue administration at local level. There were three sub-divisions in Hazara that time-Abbottabad, where I was already having my district training, Haripur, and Mansehra-a most picturesque place in Pakistan, home to the gorgeous Kaghan valley.

In a beautiful sunny morning I packed and drove in a government jeep to the valley of Mansehra. It was about 2 hours drive through mountainous roads. The Assistant Commissioner that time to whom I had to report was also a CSP couple of year senior, who later left civil service to pursue academic interests.
The AC received me very cordially, and as was the custom among civil servants that time, he asked me to put up with him in his beautiful government bungalow. In the two weeks that I spent there I was required to visit two Tehsils, and two Patwar Circles. This meant meeting two other important revenue administration functionaries in a district-the all powerful Tehsilder, and the Patwari.

Pakistan's western part had a different revenue administration system from then East Pakistan. The Tehsilder was responsible for preparation and maintenance of Tehsil Revenue Record and Revenue Accounts. He was also responsible for recovery of government dues under various Acts. He had the powers of Executive Magistrate, Assistant Collector and Sub Registrar/Joint Sub Registrar.

The Patwari was an important and effective official of the lowest ebb in the Revenue Agency. He was responsible for maintenance of record of the crop grown at every harvest; keeping of the record of rights up to date; and preparation of statistical returns embodying the information derived from the harvest inspections, register of mutation and record of rights. The inordinate amount of influence these officials had on the everyday life of a land owning inhabitant in every Tehsil and Village was stuff of legend in Pakistan.

My first Patwar Circle visit was the town of Baffa-about 20 miles away from Mansehra. Baffa also hosted two other important offices-the Tehsil Office of the area, and the Union Council Office. On a hot August morning I set out with my mentor, the AC in a government jeep for Baffa. Besides growing corn, and a variety of fruits, Baffa was also known for its dairy farms. People in the region swore by a sweet made in the area, known as "Khoya"-a milk product made with cream and sugar.

The Tehsilder of the place, who received us, was a portly gentleman of about fifty. In Pakistan those days the Tehsilder was a mighty powerful local bureaucrat. The common perception of a Tehsilder was of a wily, shrewd individual who lived by his wit and power over the area. He was also an extremely resourceful person on whom everyone depended, including the political overlords of the area.

(To be continued�)

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