Author: Saadut
•8:07 PM


Some traditions of governance are painfully costly and time wasting but nevertheless continued in their original form for more individual political reasons than practical governance issues. One such governance exercise is the “Durbar move” in J&K, a biannual exercise of moving all offices, staff and records from Srinagar to Jammu and vice versa repeated every six months. The tradition was initiated during Dogra rule in 1872 by Maharaja Gulab Singh in order to escape the heat of Jammu and also to show his presence in the newly acquired territory of Kashmir. The practice of Durbar Move was then formally started by Gulab Singh’s son Maharaja Ranbir Singh who took the durbar to Kashmir for six months of summer in 1883 escaping the sweltering heat of Jammu. Back then only 150-200 employees of Ranbir Singh including his viziers and courtiers would accompany the Maharaja in this Durbar Move. Since then this exercise has been continued in its original form by all governments, never allowing or implementing any reform or change in this practice and as a result the civil secretariat, Raj Bhawan, the state cabinet and other important offices including all their employees and records, shift from Kashmir to Jammu and back every six months.

It Costs!

Each of the biannual exercise costs upwards of over Rs 50 crore, a sum that the cash-starved state of Jammu and Kashmir could have used for other development works. This 50 crore does not include the maintenance of multiple residences and infrastructure of ministers and their staff in twin cities of Jammu & Srinagar, the cost incurred by the bureaucrats, ministers in shuffling between their dual offices and the cost of the personal staff at both the places. Moving the durbar involves shifting of office records between the two cities which is a colossal exercise, keeping in view involvement of proper inventory management, tagging, packaging, transport, and unpacking, retrieving inventory and re establishing at the destination. The transportation is handled by hundreds of trucks of the State Transport Corporation. 

More than 6000 employees that are shifted as a part of the Durbar Move are paid a ‘Move Travel Allowance’ of Rs 5,000 each, for each shift between cities which works out to about 5 crore per each move.  Transportation of these employees during this Durbar Move is arranged by the state and this also comes at a cost. A bigger chunk of the Durbar Move expenses involves the hiring of more than 3000 rooms for the employees who are shifted between the cities and according to sources the annual cost of this exercise is more than 100 crores, which is a huge sum for a financially resource starved state like J&K, these costs havin ever rising over the years.

In order to have Secretariat and ministry offices at both places the State Government has had to make huge capital investments on offices, bureaucratic and ministers residential accommodation in both cities: most of this infrastructure lies unused for six months in Srinagar and Jammu, but has to be maintained never the less. How much can a state, which finds tough to meet its development plans with limited finances, afford to spend on such an exercise?

Loosing work time!

The Durbar Move closes offices in Jammu on April 29th and opens on May 09th in Srinagar, thereby having a “No Secretariat State” for 10 days and this practice is similarly repeated in October of each year, where another 10 days the State Secretariat stays shut. Add to this the time taken by these Move offices to settle down in the alternate city, where again usually a week or 10 days are lost. Taking into account the time taken for moving staff, transporting records and the time taken to settle down in offices, it may be assumed that almost a month is lost on each move, thereby in effect having just about 10 months of working available. The plethora of government holidays available compounded with the ‘5 day work week’ in the state secretariat squeezes more time from the left over working months. Adding to the woes of common public are the reports that most non local officers prefer to leave for their homes on Fridays to be with their families over the week end and come back to their office stations on Mondays only, there by creating a void in offices.

Logistics

The state deputes huge contingent of security along the 300 kms highway between Srinagar and Jammu every time the ‘Durbar Move’ happens, the shifting itself being escorted by yet another contingent of police force. For the days the ‘Durbar Move’ travels between the cities, the Srinagar – Jammu national highway becomes a one way traffic road, most of the movement prioritized for the Durbar Move traffic. Srinagar – Jammu national highway being the only road link to Kashmir, these restrictions create problems in goods transportation and normal passenger movement on the high way, the ‘Durbar Move’ getting preference of travel movement. Also during the Durbar Move various departments coordinate the movement, the department of health deploying medical facilities along the route, affecting the availability of their staff elsewhere. 

Problems faced by common people

Every time the Durbar Moves from one city to the other city it is the local people who are at the receiving end. For most of the winter months the government virtually evaporates from Kashmir, and almost all development works slow down or stop. For any work in the secretariat departments, the common man has to make travel arrangements to Jammu, and for those poor who cannot afford the travel, waiting till the state machinery returns to summer lands of Srinagar is the only option left: often their work being held hostage to the Durbar, and creating delay in resolution of issues. Kashmir presents a neglected, deserted look for the winter months, when nature’s hardships are compounded with virtual non existent state machinery. 

Corrective remedies and political will

According to reports in January 1987, Rajiv Gandhi (then PM of India) on a visit to Kashmir was stranded in Srinagar due to heavy snowfall along with then Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. The winter Durbar in Jammu, Rajiv Gandhi felt that at a time when the government was most needed in Kashmir, it was in nonexistent in Kashmir. He is reported to have stated that “the system was anachronous”. 

As a follow-up, in 1987 the state constituted a committee to examine the implications of Durbar Move and suggest measures, the committee members being three senior bureaucrats. The committee submitted a report suggesting a limited list of departments which could be a part of the Durbar Move in view of their relevance in the two regions during summers and winters, and the report calling for limiting the number of Move offices. The report recommended equal attention to both regions, but the said report was however never implemented after some agitations were led by political interests in Jammu. Is Durbar Move inevitable? In spite of the claims by many politicians that the Durbar Move politically integrates Kashmir with Jammu and vice versa, the facts are contrary to this.  The Durbar Move has never been able to satisfy any of the regions of the state, wherein both regions feel let down and neglected. According to a noted Industrialist ‘when the government is not able to settle down properly in any of the cities how they can even devise strategies for the state”.

Where there is a will

In times as these when computing and services management does not understand geographical boundaries, are we still limiting governance issues to brick and mortar offices. When digitization of records could have ensured that all government documents and office information could be made available anywhere in the state on real time basis, what stops the state government form implementing digital record keeping in the critical departments?  Effective document management systems and automated file tracking systems could not only ensure security of documents, such systems could deliver across the state access to officials and departments and at the same time allow ministers and bureaucrats respond more effectively. Not only would technology cut down on the laborious movement of records between locations, it would ensure transparency and accountability in governance.  Meeting between regional departments could be held in real time via video conferencing without having the entourage of ministers and bureaucrats shuffle between the cities every time. Citizen E- Services have been implemented across many states in India and similar initiatives in J&K could bridge the gap between desired governance and available governance in the state.

For Kashmiri’s this shifting of ‘Durbar’ is nothing but a continuity of a Monarchy in the garb of democracy. If the subjects can withstand the winter climate in Kashmir why should the rulers and bureaucrats escape to warmer plains and leave the common people at the mercy of God, to fend for selves.
Will the government realize the vacuum created by the continuity of Durbar Move in its original form or will it wake up to ensuring streamlining of governance processes, cutting down on administrative costs, provide effective services to common people and at the same time ensuring that there is no discrimination against any region, and no region suffers at the cost of other.



June 06, 2011
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1 comments:

On June 2, 2011 at 11:29 PM , Anonymous said...

Lucidly explained & dealt with. Kudos! The suggestions make a lot of sense, hope they will be heard & implemented.