Chief district officers (CDOs) in Nepal are respected a lot. Up until 1989, a man had to wear a Dhaka topi before he entered the office of the CDO. During the Panchayat era, CDOs were like the kings of the district. They were put up on a pedestal, unlike other government officials. Even during the peak of the Maoist revolution, people feared the CDOs.
Former secretary Dwarika Nath Dhungel says that back then, a CDO would know the ins and outs of a small incident in the district within 24 hours. The information mechanism was so organised, the CDO received every little information about every little incident. “Now, we don’t even know if they are there,” says Dhungel.
The CDOs were powerful because the laws favoured them. Even when multiparty democracy was established in 1990, the CDOs remained independent and autonomous from the parties that they supported. Their role would also be discussed a lot during public discourses, which shows how much they were respected. The CDOs would always be active during issues related to borders, citizenship, and internal security affairs.
That said, the power they had also resulted in misuse. An example of an incident in Terai highlights the misuse of power by a CDO. During the Panchayat era, a CDO was at the office terrace observing what was going on. Suddenly, he saw a marriage procession coming towards him. It was loud, and everyone seemed to be in a celebratory mood. That irked him as he ordered the police to stop the procession and hold them for an entire day. The groom and his entourage were only allowed to leave the next day.
But, that has changed as the CDOs now have little to none of their previous powers. Law, government structure and environment do not allow them to have the same power; their roles have changed
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