On 5 May 2020, the Hon’ble Chief Justice Ms Gita Mittal and Hon’ble Mr Justice Rajnesh Oswal, via video-conferencing, discussed the issue of Darbar Move that has been in practice since 1872.
Brief Facts of the Issue
The practice of bi-annual shifting of its Capital has been in practice for 148 years now. This practice originated in 1872 when the then Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir could not tolerate the harshness of the winter in Kashmir, thus, moved the capital from Srinagar to Jammu for the winter.
The expenditures of Darbar Move is tremendous. The impact on the judiciary, on the people, administration and governance are huge. Not only the government employees but also their families have been dealing with this emotional impact.
The Writ petition WP(C) PIL No. 4/2020 was filed by Azra Ismail regarding the issue which was heard on 10 April 2020. The formal opening of Darbar at Srinagar was postponed to 15 June 2020. Therefore, the court is called upon to examine, if such an arrangement should perpetuate and examine its bindingness given the fact that it did not originate from considerations of public welfare, good governance or any needs of efficiency of the administration.
The Darbar Move would have taken place in the last week of April/1st week of May 2020.
- The Darbar Move into Srinagar would entail movement of thousands of Government personnel at all levels, shifting the complete administrative machinery and equipment.
- The Kashmir Valley, especially Srinagar has witnessed a fast-spreading of COVID-19.
- The medical facilities available currently in J & K is miserably inadequate even at the time when the UT was not fighting such a disease.
- Darbar Move would facilitate the fast spread of COVID-19 and would endanger thousands of lives of the local.
- Movement of thousands of people and equipment from Jammu in itself violates the needs of social distancing.
- The usage of a large number of resources for Darbar Move is not necessary, especially when lakhs of people in the UT are facing unemployment, denial of wages, suffering to find basic needs of food and nutrition.
- The issues raised certainly impacted the Constitutional and basic human rights of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
The order dated 10 April 2020, called for relevant information from the departments for the Court to give its take on the issue.
The Court was provided with all the relevant information for its analysis, by different government departments involved in the Darbar Move.
What is ‘Darbar Move’ and reasons for the same?
- ‘Darbar Move’ is an arrangement that involves shifting of Government from Srinagar (Summer capital) to Jammu (Winter capital) in winter.
- No historical treatise is available giving its details except for one explanation that says that Maharaja Ranbir Singh started this practice to escape harsh winters of Srinagar. He constructed the ‘Banihal Cart Road’ on which the Darbar travelled. Back then it only involved a small number of employees and infrastructure in a few cartloads which are not the case now.
What does it entail?
- A week before it, the staff is engaged in packaging of the entire records of the Government, several statutory functionaries and public sector undertakings. Not just files but also office furniture and computers are shifted.
- Transportation takes another week. Unpackaging takes a week more.
- Extensive deployment of police and security personnel to secure government records.
- Employees are transported in buses.
- In April-May 2019, a total of 10112 (including 112 of the judiciary) employees and in Oct-Nov. 2019, a total of 9695 (including 123 of the judiciary) employees were involved in the Darbar Moves.
- As far as transportation is concerned; 152 trucks and 56 buses were provided in April 2019 by J&K SRTC for transportation of records and employees and 148 trucks and 34 buses were provided by J&K SRTC in October 2019, for transportation of records and employees. This transportation disrupts the traffic, thus, impacting public interest.
- The total revenue generated by J&K SRTC for transportation of employees and records in April 2019 is 51, 82,286/- and in Oct. 2019 is Rs.48,22,990/-.
This much amount of resources could be used for the welfare and development of the UT. A tremendous amount of time is wasted at the same time as resources. The expenses of accommodation of all officers/officials who move from one city to another must be additionally borne by the public exchequer.
Its implication on the judiciary
The entire Main Wing has to be shifted. The administrative records of the entire judiciary of Jammu and Kashmir including personal records of the judges and administrative records have to be carted along with the Darbar Move from one city to another. Due to this, there are many cases adjourned and there is a huge delay in the dispensation of justice.
On each occasion three weeks are lost, thus, six weeks in total are lost just to shift capitals without any governance. Such a break in governance cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially for J & K as it deals with a lot of sensitive issues throughout the year.
The reason for the Darbar Move being Harsh Winter conditions is completely irrelevant today provided the fact that today we have an efficient and modern environment control mechanism as air conditioning, heaters etc. in both Jammu and Srinagar.
The UT of J & K cannot afford to spend Rs. 200 crores on Darbar Move every year as the income generated by the Govt is much less than its budget. Some of the alternatives available to Darbar Move are Joint Capitals, Division of Organs of State, Official versus De facto capital, Division of Ministries and Decentralization of Powers. These have been followed in other countries successfully. Both the Jammu as well as the Srinagar regions equally require administration and governance around the year without interruption.
The Court analysed the information provided about Darbar Move by various departments and listed out its limitations. The court stated that it does not have the jurisdiction whereby it stands precluded from making a declaration on the permissibility of the practice of the Darbar Move.
Therefore, the Court serves the above judgment upon the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi and the Chief Secretary of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with the direction to place the same before the competent authorities for examining the issues raised and taking a considered decision thereon.
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