The Division Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Rajnesh Oswal of J & K HC called for a review of the 148-year-old protocol of shifting the capital of Jammu and Kashmir twice a year, in what was popularly termed the Darbar Move.
The practice needed to be revisited and that it may not be feasible anymore, HC opined.
The concerned Constitutional authorities shall examine and consider the necessity and feasibility of the bi-annual exercise of shifting the capital in Jammu and Kashmir. The Court made a note of the limitations on the powers of the Court to take a final call on the issue. The Court fell short of passing final judgment on the same while listing down the reasons for why the practice should be discontinued.
The Court stated,
“We have also noted above the limitations on the extent of our jurisdiction whereby we stand precluded from making a declaration on the permissibility or the continuation of the practice of the Darbar Move. We defer this task to the best wisdom of those on whom the Constitution of India bestows this solemn duty keeping in view, the interest of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the larger interest of its people and the mandate of the Constitution of India.”
Darbar Move explained
The practice of ‘Darbar Move’ was started by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1872 to escape the extreme weather conditions in the two regions. When the capital has shifted, the civil secretariat, important subsidiary offices, files and government documents, and the assembly will also shift.
The undivided State of Jammu and Kashmir was the only State in India to have two capitals: Srinagar, the Summer capital and Jammu, the Winter capital.
The capital of the State shifted between these cities twice a year in what was called as the Darbar Move. The practice has gone on for 148 years ever since, long after the rule of the Maharajah ended.
Questions highlighted by J&K High Court
The court said,
The government has incured a declared amount of Rs 200 Crores in the practice of the Darbar move. Several hundreds of crores of Rupees might be spent in addition to this which remain undisclosed
The question highlighted , whether the government can afford to spend all this money from the public exchequer to continue a practice that has no consideration of public welfare in the present era.
The propriety of the continuation and perpetuation of this practice would have to be examined considering that the same does not find its source in the Constitution of India, but has continued till date despite the same, court further opined.
The financial burden of the bi-annual move, as well as the public welfare aspects, also featured prominently in the plethora of dimensions that the Court explored while examining the issue and queried,
“…is this acceptable in a hopelessly fiscally deprived UT with severe underdevelopment and people deprived of bare basics which are essential part of their fundamental right of life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India?”
It was pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic had made its inroads in the UT, and that Srinagar was particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Making the move at a time like this would jeopardise the health of several citizens including those of locals.
The Court called for all the records and details pertaining to this practice. Upon production of the same, the Bench considered the larger question of whether the practice should be continued at all.
Two point Conclusion of High Court
The court observed after examining all the records and hearing the arguments,
“No reasons or grounds are forthcoming for enabling and supporting considerations of administrative efficiency, legal justification or Constitutional basis for effecting the Darbar Moves.”
The Court said that both the Kashmir and Jammu regions require uninterrupted governance round the year and the existing practice is unfair on the people who are deprived of the same for six months in a year and added,
The original reason for the Darbar move i.e. the weather condition is something that can be taken care of with technological advancements. Therefore, it opined that the shifting of capitals for this reason is no longer necessary. The transportation of important documents consisting of sensitive information two times a year for such long distances put them at risk and may affect the regional and national security.
“Information technology integrates disjoint units into single units virtually. Therefore, even if the Secretariat and Departments were divided and placed at different locations, they could be virtually unified into a single Secretariat with minimal movement of human resources.”
The move itself caused logistical issues in the region with traffic disruption and upheavel in the life of the government servants who move between the two cities bi-annually.
The court concluded,
The Darbar move causes tremendous waste of time, energy and resources. Therefore, it has now called for the concerned authorities to review whether the 148-year old practice should be continued.
Read the Judgment here: