Discarding the Durbar move

K.N. Pandita

Perhaps J&K is the only federating unit of the Union of India with two capitals, and hence, the six-monthly shift of the secretariat. The practice of six-monthly Durbar move between Srinagar and Jammu adopted 149 years ago as per the necessity of the day, has turned to be redundant and outlandish in the second decade of the 21st century generally called the age of highly advanced science and technology.
Dissimilar geography of the two regions, mountainous and rugged physical terrain of the entire sub-Himalayan region with much hazardous communication and twisting and meandering accessibility were the reasons for establishing two capitals for the state in A.D 1871, and thus necessitating a secretariat on wheels.
In this era of spectacular human ingenuity in the fields of science and technology, the physical environs have gone through a sea change. Awe-inspiring bridges, incredible tunnels, diversion of roaring rivers and surmounting of snow-clad peaks, all have become a reality and we are familiar with these innovations to the extent of taking them for granted.
Along with this the revolution in information technology has taken us to a new world where life looks more surrealistic than realistic. The six-monthly shift of the Durbar has become a biannual spring and harvest picnic for the privileged class of a handful of people all at the cost of a poor man’s tax.
Issuing an order by which the practice of bi-annual Durbar move would be discarded is the prerogative of the administrative organ. Honourable Chief Justice of the High Court would not trespass the area outside its jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the observations made and advisory issued to the government in the course of hearing a petition for putting an end to Durbar move, is technically almost a dummy verdict of the Honorable High Court. A rare but highly relevant opinion expressed by the top echelon of the judicial organ of the state cannot go unheeded by the administrative authority. The cogent arguments in the form of questions could form the sum and substance of the court’s verdict if a verdict was sought.
The UT is financially and economically dependent on cash doles from the centre. Its economy is fragile and revenue-generating sources are either diseased or made dysfunctional by rampant bribery. Prudence says that each rupee spent should be spent judiciously. The Honorable CJ has questioned the wisdom of incurring a whopping amount of 400 crore rupees annually on Durbar move, something that can be stopped without an iota of damage done to the administrative efficiency. We must also take into account the amount of time that is wasted in packing, transportation and unpacking of tons of files, which, however, can easily be stored in a couple of computer chips and carried in a handbag.
The idea of dispensing with the shifting practice has been under consideration of the authorities for quite some time. But vested interests would not allow that to happen. Primarily, they have pecuniary interests because the Durbar move is a windfall for them. Last November, the Lt. Governor, exhibiting his frugality, hiked the Durbar move allowance to the secretariat staff from Rs. 15000/- to Rs. 20,000/- each employee in the shape of support for Durbar move (or 55 lakh increase in budgetary allocations). This was in addition to normal allowances, one week or ten days leave with full pay and allowances and several sundry benefits accruing through manipulations. The second interest is that they escape the harsh climate of summer and winter zones at the cost of the poor man’s taxes.
A bitter truth is that the practice of Durbar move has given rise to a small privileged class of state employees who become the beneficiaries of maximum munificence from the Government. The interesting thing is that beneficiaries are themselves the proposers of benefits, sanctioning authority of benefits and drawers of benefits, — the proverbial the judge, the jury and the hangman– all three rolled in one. The posts at which they work are non-transferable by and large. And this encapsulates them from the fear of being relocated inconveniently to a distant place in the State in case they are offenders of dereliction of duty.
The privileged class that has gradually emerged is also ‘one-way traffic’ idiomatically speaking. For their families and kith and kin joining them during their winter or summer sojourns, it is an excursion at the cost of the public exchequer. The employees are not provided only furnished or semi-furnished government accommodation but the super speciality maintenance is also offered to the privileged occupants such as six-monthly whitewashing, electric fitting, sanitary fitting, woodwork and other repairing and kitchen maintenance. All these pre-requisites are provided by the Estates Department more as a matter of right than a normal function. This lifestyle undoubtedly carves a highly privileged class out of about fifteen thousand secretariat employees that have ultimately become the most privileged and the most influential segment of bureaucracy ruling the roost. It is a dangerous social aberration and class division.
The anti-Durbar move group will try to raise and magnify many superfluous questions once they feel that the Durbar move is going to be scrapped. The first question which they will raise is which of the two capital cities should be the permanent seat of the government, Srinagar or Jammu? Knowing that this is a sensitive question and emotions get quickly surcharged, the spoilers will try to play it up as a political issue.
No doubt it is a complicated question. If the Government resolves to abandon the old practice, which it has to do in any case, will have to make some research and analysis of the repercussions of the decision that it would be making. For example, the Government must take stock of the number of secretariat employee from each of the three regions of the erstwhile state and evaluate the data in a scale of equitable treatment of the regions. The number of employees from each region will be a key to the issue whether the benefits accruing to the employees of Durbar move are just and equitable or not. In case it is not just and equitable or proportionate to the population of each region, then that disparity shall have to be done away with. It might necessitate parity between the two regions for administrative, financial, developmental and investment purposes. It means a mechanism for forging party shall have to be devised.
The Government may have to think of a bigger reorganization outlook than just doing away with the Durbar move only. A comparative study of existing scale of development and on hand infrastructure in two regions done comprehensively along with investment scales should be the fundamental criterion for deciding which of the two cities should be the future capital of the Union Territory and where the secretariat will be housed permanently or at least for twenty years by which time the two regions would be almost at par in respect of development and income per capita.
In terms of security, the borders of both regions are vulnerable. Pakistan targets our border villages and locales for unrelenting shelling and firing. However, while destabilizing border in Rajouri and Poonch districts has become a routine with Pakistan, infiltration and border engagements is the scenario in the border areas of Kupwara and Uri in Kashmir division? The real danger is not from infiltration in Kashmir; the real danger is from the international border in Samba-Kathua sector wherefrom the enemy wants to enter and cut off the link to Kashmir Valley. Our security in these sectors has become rather precarious owing to the resettling of Rohingyas of Myanmar close to the border in Samba and Jammu.
Therefore, from a strategic point of view, Jammu is highly sensitive and protection of Jammu border is vital to the existence of not only the valley but the entire Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. This should not be forgotten when the authorities are going to zero in on a final selection of the permanent seat of the government in the UT of J&K. Settlement of aliens along this sensitive border makes it extremely important that sensitization of this border shall become a permanent feature of the policy of the Union Territory as well as that of the Centre.