The present system of administration in Delhi can be traced back to 1803, when Delhi came under British protection and eventually became part of the British Punjab. Delhi district had a Deputy Commissioner who was the Chief District Officer, having revenue and Registration powers. He was also the head of urban administration, being President of the District Board and the Municipality.
Till independence, Delhi had a Chief Commissioner as the administrative and executive head, with the Deputy Commissioner reporting to him. He had three Assistant Commissioners to share responsibilities such as case work of revenue and criminal appeals, municipal and minor criminal cases, and administration of the Municipality.
After independence, the nature of District Administration underwent some changes with devolution of powers to newly created Departments. For example, the Municipality evolved into the MCD, in which the DC had no role after 1958. The development works were transferred to the Development Commissioner, the industries work to the Directorate of Industries and the work of transport to the Department of Transport.
However, D.C., Delhi continued to be the Head of the District Administration, responsible for law and order, excise, issue of arms and explosive licenses, and citizenship certificates, apart from revenue and criminal judicial work. In the mid-seventies, the DC office was organized as follows – These were four administrative districts – New, Central, North and South, looked after by three ADMs, amongst whom the various other powers and functions, such as treasuries, excise, entertainment etc., were divided. Revenue and Land Acquisition work was supervised by ADM (Revenue) and ADM (LA) respectively. There were 12 Sub-Divisions, each headed by SDM, which was later reduced to seven.
Two major changes greatly diluted the role of DC Office. The first was the separation of the executive and the judiciary in 1969, after which heinous crimes were dealt with by Sessions Courts and other offences including IPC offences were dealt with by Judicial Magistrates. The Executive Magistrates were to look after executive and administrative matters such as licensing, sanction of prosecution, and preventive sections of the Cr.P.C. such as Section 107,109,110,133,144 and 145.
In 1978, the Delhi Police Act was promulgated, by which Delhi came under the Commissioner of Police system. Almost all powers of the District Magistrates as per the Cr.P.C. were vested in the Police Commissioner. Section 107 and Section 144 Cr.P.C., which are very important viz a viz law and order, since then have been directly dealt with by the Police. Furthermore, powers of licensing and entertainment, which earlier vested in the D.C., were also given to the Police.
This was the situation in 1996 when the exercise of decentralizing the DC office by setting up 27 SDM offices and 9 DC offices was started. While the SDMs were put in place in mid-1996, the DCs began functioning from 1.1.97. Further in September 2012, Delhi was devided into 11 districts and 33 subdivisions.