Durbar move: a raging controversy

(see on en.wikipedia)
By K.N. Pandita

Amidst a plethora of tasks awaiting attention in the aftermath of the reorganization of the State, is the question whether abolishing nearly two centuries old practice of Durbar move after every six months is or is not feasible. This is a serious question.

The practice of Durbar move was started by early Dogra rulers who had geostrategic and climatic conditions as the main reasons to push the plan. According to an estimate six monthly move of the Durbar entails the huge expenditure of nearly 400 crore rupees. Some years ago, the idea of abolishing the practice was mooted in a small official circle to relieve the state exchequer of a heavy financial burden. The money thus saved could be utilized for providing more facilities to the citizens.

However, the move was scuttled by influential elements with vested interests. Ordinary tax payer is thus obliged to pay for the luxuries enjoyed by the Durbar move blue-eyed functionaries not once but twice in a year. We know that the entire secretariat staff receives substantial pecuniary benefit from the move and would not want to lose it for nothing. Each year more perks in the name of temporary dislocation are demanded and conceded without demur. For the current move the secretarial staff got a bonanza of twenty-five thousand per employee.

This is an important issue and we are aware that relevant circles in New Delhi are seized of it. The six-monthly move has become a source of promoting elitist culture and emergence of an elitist class in Kashmirian society because of their numerical strength in the Secretariat service. Therefore, a dispassionate debate on the subject is highly desirable. Times have changed and the conditions that prevailed two hundred years ago when the Durbar move system was introduced have drastically changed. The entire issue has to be examined from a different trajectory.

As far as the strategic importance is concerned, the Kashmir of our times has adopted different contours with different perceptions and objectives. As union territory, the responsibility of security of the long border entirely falls in the realm of the Home, Defence, Finance and EA ministries of the Government of India. As we know, the GOI has a clear cut defence policy of the northern borders particularly when two neighbouring states are not on friendly terms with us. In strategic terms Kashmir of today is much more important than ever before. That is one of the reasons why Ladakh had to be converted into the union territory.

As far as weather conditions and connectivity are concerned, we are living in a modern age. With new technology at our disposal and with widespread use of energy produced through hydroelectric power generating facility, the question of weather conditions does not pose any serious problem. We are now able to control room temperature through mechanical devices. Many European countries and Canada are colder and record below minus temperature in winter. However they have very efficient weather conditioning systems.

In the area of connectivity, many major and important steps have been taken to make connectivity time and labour saving to a maximum extent. Once the railway link is fully established, probably within a year, between the valley and the rest of the country, especially Jammu, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc. the entire economic narrative in the union territory will undergo a sea change. Alongside, the four laning of the national highway is heading to an early completion which will further boost round the year connectivity between the valley and other parts of the country. The time is not far away when the overland travel from Srinagar to Jammu will take just four to five hours. Moreover, with the tunneling of the Pir, the time of travel between Srinagar and Rajouri/Poonch and Jammu will be reduced considerably.

The biggest factor that dispels the necessity of Durbar move is the amazing revolution ushered in by the new Information Technology. The world is heading towards paperless society. The computer is replacing mountains of files and documents. The right to information makes everybody eligible to obtaining information or status of the files or cases pending with the secretariat. Any information, instructions and guidelines can be communicated by the superiors to their juniors in shortest possible time. Even the much touted meetings at district and divisional levels are now possible to be held through video conference at no cost whatsoever. This revolution has to be made felt.

All this suggests that there remains very little rather no justification for continuing the practice of six monthly Durbar moves. The practice can be, and should be done away with and a permanent station has to be set up where the Secretariat will function for the full year. This throws up the question whether the seat of the government should be in Jammu city or in Srinagar or at a third place to be identified. We know that this could become a sensitive issue for the people in the two regions. But a time comes when the people and the government both have to overcome sensitivity and passion for regionalism and recognize the supremacy of national interests. A via media has to be found that would serve the purpose of the stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders in this case? They are the people of the valley, of Jammu region and the government of the union territory. In any case it is not possible to have two secretariats nor is it at all feasible to distribute the departments region-wise. A Secretariat is not something that has to be given wheels to move.

There is no feasible site midway between Srinagar and Jammu where new secretariat can be built along with its extensions and campuses as the development proceeds. Ramban has no plain area, Batote hills are sinking and Kud or Mantalai would not be feasible owing to distance from Srinagar and other towns in the valley. Therefore we concentrate on either Jammu or Srinagar.

I have some strong reasons to suggest that Srinagar should continue to be the temporary seat of the government and the Durbar move practice should be abolished forthwith. Actually, a new suitable site in the valley for the government has to be identified under a carefully chalked out plan. A new township has to come up in due course of time where the seat of government is to be proposed…

Srinagar city should not be the seat of the government. This city is overcrowded and most of its localities are unplanned and shabby. Traffic snarls are a recurrent feature of this city with narrow lanes. It has lost much of its charm. Its tourist attraction has dwindled with enormous pollution overtaking its lakes and water bodies. Moreover, Srinagar has become a rowdy city and problematic for law enforcing authorities.

I would consider the plan should be of creating a new site as the seat of the government somewhere downstream of Verinag along both the banks of the Vitasta with connectivity to Pahalgam. Already the proposal of a rail connection between Verinag and Pahalgam is on the cards and this could become the cardinal site for the new seat of the government. The benefits of this scheme are numerous. It will make the new seat of the government a hub of national and international tourism with the potential to become the mainstay of Kashmir economy.

An important reason of alienation of the people of Kashmir was the negligible presence of the Indian State in J&K. The people of the valley have a long standing grouse that the Government of India hardly made its presence felt among the masses of people. It remained content with the ruling dynasties, and absolved itself of the wisdom, need and responsibility of interacting maximally with the masses of people on the ground. The people in the valley felt they were sold out to the few favoured ruling families that were mired in corruption and nepotism. The chasm between the ruling elite and the general masses had widened considerably and when the gun brought chaos, the alienated masses of people enjoyed their sadist satisfaction. Having a secretariat in South East Kashmir means round the clock presence of the Union government in Kashmir, a strategy that would bring immense benefits to the people of the valley. It will put an end to alienation and the people will feel that they have a just and benevolent government.

This would be the site where, in due course of time, residential quarters for the secretarial employees of all ranks will come up and with that the township will have the look of a modern city with satisfactory civic amenities. The displaced people will also be rehabilitated in the upcoming locale. The township will also need an airstrip and rail connectivity. This is a long range project and if started now it could take full shape within two decades. Ultimately this will be the main tourist hub in Kashmir.

The one minus aspect of this proposal is that Jammu people will protest and oppose the it. They will be justified. It will be somewhat difficult for the government to make the Jammu people understand that by and large some small regional or sub-regional interests have to be sacrificed for larger national interests. Nevertheless, a way out can be found to assuage the hurt feelings of Jammu people. For example, Jammu region can be allowed financial and quasi administrative autonomy. Sub-regional autonomy is not something unknown to political practitioners. There is already duplication of some regional level offices/departments. This can be expanded to accommodate more of them. If the development process of Jammu is severed from overall developmental programmes, I think that would be highly conducive to the larger interests of Jammu. These measures are required even if the Durbar move is not done away with. An autonomous administrative and financial council for Jammu region could be considered seriously.

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