Jammu & Kashmir High Court
Jammu & Kashmir High Court
Litigation News

Is it feasible to shift capital twice a year in Jammu & Kashmir? J&K High Court lists reasons to reconsider the 148-year-old "Darbar Move"

While it listed down the reasons for why the practice should be discontinued, the Court fell short of passing final judgment on the issue, leaving it to the Government to take a final call.

Shruti Mahajan

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Tuesday 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 High Court opined that this practice needs to be revisited and that it may not be feasible anymore.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Rajnesh Oswal on Tueday directed the concerned Constitutional authorities to examine and consider the necessity and feasibility of the bi-annual exercise of shifting the capital in Jammu and Kashmir.

Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal
Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal

While passing the direction, the Court made a note of the limitations on the powers of the Court to take a final call on the issue. Therefore, while it listed down the reasons for why the practice should be discontinued, the Court fell short of passing final judgment on the same. The Court said,

"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."

What is the Darbar Move?

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.

This pre-independence practice of the Darbar move was started by the Maharajah in 1872 and was primarily on account of the harsh weather conditions in the Himalayan State. The practice has gone on for 148 years ever since, long after the rule of the Maharajah ended.

When the practice had begun, it involved moving of some officials and some records in a few cartloads. As on date, however, it involves 151 government departments and over 10,000 government personnel between the two capital cities.

The ferrying around of all the paraphernalia, including electronic equipment and furniture, in over 150 trucks and the travel of the officials for the journey of 300 kilometers is all done at the cost of public exchequer.

The Questions considered by the High Court

The High Court highlighted that the government incurs 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 Court said.

The question raised was 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 Court pointed out that 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.

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..

"...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?"
the Court queried.

On April 10, the apprehension regarding the impending Darbar move which was scheduled for end of April or first week of May, was expressed. 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, it was observed.

Therefore, 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.

What the High Court said

After examining all the records and hearing the arguments, some made in favor of the Darbar move as an inherent part of the tradition of the erstwhile State, the Court arrived at a twenty-two point conclusion.

"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 observed.

Further, 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.

Every year there is a governance deficit for almost six weeks and this is a glaring gap which cannot be permitted, considering the sensitive situation of the region.

The Court further adds that 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.

It is further pointed out by the Court that the transportation of important documents consisting of sensitive information two times a year for such long distances puts 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 Court adds, while making a case for ending the practice.

The security personnel are placed with immense added burden in ensuring the safe passage during the darbar move and the same is done at a "phenomenal undesirable cost", the Court underscores.

Further, the move itself causes 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, it was observed.

The Darbar move causes tremendous waste of time, energy and resources, the Court concluded. Therefore, it has now called for the concerned authorities to review whether the 148-year old practice should be continued.

Read the Judgment:

Darbar Move Judgment - 05.05.2020.pdf
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