Basit Amin Makhdoomi
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has rung its bell in its recently delivered judgement on the legacy of Darbar Move, a 148-year-old tradition in which the capital of the region is relocated twice a year – from Srinagar to Jammu during winter months and vice versa in the summers. The High Court had recently taken a suo motto cognisance of the order issued by the UT administration which had delayed the switch of Darbar from Jammu to Srinagar keeping in view the Covid-19 Pandemic.The High Court after considering the material placed before it pronounced,
“Our judicial conscience compels us to “ring the bell” else we would fail in discharging our judicial duty or to perform our Constitutional function as demanded in the interest of the Nation and the people of Jammu and Kashmir especially its common woman and man, the poor and the weak. We hasten to add that conscious of the limitations of our jurisdiction, we shall confine ourselves to “ringing the bell” without anything more”.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice Gita Mittal observed that there are no grounds or reasons forthcoming for enabling and supporting the considerations of administrative efficiency, legal justification or constitutional basis for effecting Darbar moves. The Division Bench of the High Court then went on to prod the decision makers, including the Centre directing them to look into the necessity of holding this 148-year-old biannual Darbar move, keeping in mind the financial implication of more than Rs 200 crore incurred by the “hopelessly fiscally deprived Union Territory”.
The Legacy of Darbar Move
Historical references indicate that the practise of switching Darbars/Headquarters were prevalent much earlier in 1325-1350 when Mohamaad bin Tughlaq on an experimental basis kept shuttling his capitals between Delhi and Daulatabad.The Sultan adopted this new methodology keeping in view their strategic value and safety they brought along. A similar sort of practise was adopted by Mughals during the reign of Emperor Jahangir when he temporarily kept on shifting his capital to Kashmir during the harsh summers in mainland India. The British rule also witnessed a similar practise of moving capital when they shifted their capital to the hills of Shimla in summers and preferred working from Calcutta during winters. In the erstwhile princely state of J&K the practice was started by Dogra king Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872. It was during his reign the construction of Banihal cart road was also started which facilitated his move from Jammu to Srinagar more conveniently. Some historians assert that it was on the ‘advice’ of British Regent to address the grievances of Kashmiris, who felt neglected at the hands of Dogra Rulers that this practice was adopted while many claim that it was out of Maharaja’s own volition and to have best of both the worlds: away from the scorching heat of Jammu during summer and chilling cold of Kashmir during winter. This method of governance culminated into a convention which has stood the test of time till now.
Implications of undertaking this exercise
The enormity of this exercise can be gauged by the fact that when the capital shifts, so does the civil secretariat, important subsidiary offices, files and government documents, and the assembly. Official documents and other equipment are packed in hundreds of bundles, cartons and metallic trunks, and loaded into more than 250 trucks which ferry all of them for the over 300 Km distance between Jammu and Srinagar and vice versa.The General Administration Department in its affidavit before the High Court stated that about 9,695 Government officials were involved in this biannual exercise in November 2019, while it stood at a figure of 10,112 in April 2019. On each move, move allowance equivalent to Rs. 25,000 (therefore, an amount of Rs. 50,000 is paid per annum) were paid to employees who are involved in the Darbar Move. Additionally a Temporary Move Allowance of Rs. 2,000 per month is also paid to eachmoving employee, bringing the annual expenditure to Rs.75000 per employee. Managing Director J&K SRTC informed the Court that in (April 2019), 152 trucks and 56 buses were provided by SRTC for transportation of records. IGP (Security), J&K in his report to the court stated that surveillance and security for the Darbar Move are given from the point of loading of the records, en-route National Highway up-to destination by deploying Police/CAPF nafri for ROP, meticulous anti-sabotage checks to ensure proper area domination for secured moment of Darbar Move Convoy. It was also submitted that 1081 personnel from J&K Armed Police, J&K Security, police in Kashmir and Jammu Zone were engaged in providing security for the move in October 2019. Additionally 15 companies, 1 section of Central Armed Police Force provided security to this exercise in October 2019. Similarly the J&K’s Estate’s Department which is responsible for providing accommodation to the Civil Secretariat employees whenever there is ‘Darbar Move’ in its affidavit before the court disclosed that Rs 127 crore was spent for providing accommodation to the Darbar Move employees during 2018-19 and 2019-20. All this gives an insight into the magnanimity of this exercise and its bearing on the public exchequer.
Previous attempt to reform
In 1987 when the then PM Rajiv Gandhi was on a visit to J&K and due to bad weather he got stuck in Kashmir, this when the headquarter and the administrative seat of governance was in Jammu. As this seemed ironic and strange, the PM asked the then CM Dr Farooq Abdullah to review this age old practice keeping in view the changing times. Dr Farooq Abdullah then constituted a committee with then finance commissioner Sheikh Ghulam Rasool as its Chairman and Shafi Pandit and Sushma Chaudhary as its members to suggest measures to reform this practice. The committee submitted its report titled “Darbar Move the Reality” which recommended certain measures to revamp this age old practice. When some of its recommendations were taken up for implementation some vested interests inflamed passions under the banner of regional discrimination, because of which the report had to be shelved. An informal effort in this direction was also made when Omar Abdullah was the CM but again such attempts were looked upon with suspicion across the State. The strangle this issue has on the false prestige and psyche of the people of two provinces has been the biggest impediment for the requisite political will to bid this practice its long overdue farewell.
Call for reforms
Way back in 1872 the practice of Darbar Move might have seemed pragmatic and rational keeping in view the aspirations and the governance needs of the provinces of the erstwhile State of J&K. The rugged and mountainous topography further complicated by the geographical disconnect owing to lack of road and air travel facilities prevalent in those times seem to have been eased to a great extent in present era. It also needs to be appreciated that since the state was dismembered our size has shrunk and we have fell to 18th sport in terms of area in the union of India and even much bigger states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have managed governance efficiently with having a single permanently stationed capital. With advancement of technology distances have dwindled and the outdated method of ferrying truck loads of records involving large scale money and manpower seem rearward and retrograde. Digitisation of all records has already been undertaken to a great extent and its expected that by 2021 this exercise would be complete thereby making the practice of ferrying records redundant. The High Court has been gracious in suggesting a number of viable alternatives that could be adopted, but for their implementation the onus to a great extent lies on the people of J&K. It won’t be too hypothetical to imagine the results that the rationalising of practice could bring along in terms of amount of money, resources and time.
All these could be deployed in tackling much more pivotal issues of unemployment, healthcare and a better infrastructure against which we all have been grappling since ages. The people need to acknowledge the fact that attaching ego & emotions to issues of governance has bled us profusely since many past years and time has come to shed being stereotypical and dogmatic and then only the common man will smell the fragrance of good governance.
Basit Amin Makhdoomi