Is It Curtains for Durbar Move?

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Basit Amin Makhdoomi

IN its recently delivered judgement, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has rung the bell on Durbar Move, the legacy of autocratic rule. As per this 148-year-old practice the capital of the region is relocated twice a year — from Srinagar to Jammu during winter months and vice versa in the summers.

High Court  had recently taken a suo motto cognisance of the order issued by the administration of the newly carved out Union Territory which had delayed the Durbar Move from Jammu to Srinagar in view the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Honourable 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 Durbar 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 Durbar Move, keeping in mind the financial implication of more than Rs 200 crore incurred by the “hopelessly fiscally deprived Union Territory”.

The Legacy of Durbar Move

Historical references indicate that the practise of switching Durbars/Headquarters were prevalent much earlier in 1325-1350 when Mohammad bin Tuglaq on an experimental basis kept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 ruler 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 off 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 9695 Government officials were involved in this biannual exercise in Nov 2019, while it stood at a figure of 10112 in April 2019. On each Durbar 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 Durbar Move. Additionally a Temporary Move Allowance of Rs. 2,000/- per month is also paid to each moving employee, bringing the annual expenditure to Rs.75,000/- 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 Durbar 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 Durbar convoy. It was also submitted that 1081 personnel from J&K Armed Police, police in Kashmir and Jammu zones were engaged in providing security for the move in Oct 2019. Additionally 15 companies 1 section of Central Armed Police Force provided security to this exercise in Oct 2019. Similarly the  J&K’s Estate’s Department which is responsible for providing accommodation to the Civil Secretariat employees whenever there is Dubar Move in its affidavit before the court disclosed that Rs 127 crore was spent for providing accommodation to the 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 prime minister 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, Gandhi asked the then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah to review this age old practice keeping in view the changing times. Dr Farooq Abdullah then constituted a committee with the then Financial Commissioner Sheikh Ghulam Rasool as its Chairman and Shafi Pandit and Shusma Chaudhary as  members to suggest measures to reform this practice. The committee  submitted its report titled “Durbar 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 and because of which the report had to be shelved. An informal effort in this direction was also made when Omar Abdullah was the chief minister but again such attempts were looked upon with suspicion across the state, especially in Jammu. The strangle hold 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 Durbar 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 available 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 its size has shrunk and J&K has fallen 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 a single permanently stationed capital.

Author practices law at the J&K High Court. He can be reached at: Makhdoomi13@gmail.com

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 tacking 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 stereotypes and its only then the ordinary people will reap the benefits of good governance.

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