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
Author: Saadut
•7:00 PM

Even during the peak of turmoil my college summer holidays brought me back to Kashmir, travelling long distances over countries notwithstanding. It was mid 90’s and this September day was one of the last days of my summer holidays in Srinagar : the restraints and restrictions put in place by the state did not leave much time for anybody, squeezing the day into a half day and extending the nights to overlapped mornings and evenings. The September sun still had the intensity of August, the bunkered roads led nowhere, and milestones had been since covered with barbed razor wires as if pointing to the fact that every road in Kashmir led to oblivion. Had it not been for the forces barricades driving could have been an ease those days, the traffic plying on Srinagar roads having been limited by the fright of occurrences. Dalgate turn around could be negotiated in seconds unlike the unending jams you see there nowadays, the few fruit sellers sitting on the cart edges towards the CD hospital ascent lay lazing with a hand fan, the houseboats on the left side had since been empty, devoid of guests. The wide open, uncluttered road gave enough view of the now unoccupied shops that had replaced the earlier Kashmir art galleries, once bustling with business and now lay barren, their mortar painted in dull melancholic gray. The only business here having survived the ravages of our conflict were the pharmacies and one among them was the famous pharmacy by the Dal lake turnaround catering to all yet none of our aliments: this conflict is a strange thing, creates new disorders and out of this misery creates opportunities for some.   The still waters of the Chinar Bagh Dal canal had turned pungent and foul with the uncontrolled weeds, which like the men in Khakis across Kashmir had taken a free run, invaded and permeated, taking over every bit of what they could. The mighty Chinars of the Chinar bagh shaded every part of the isles, camouflaging and cloaking the sunshine out: the Chinars in some ways acting like the state dominion who wanted every voice, every truth, every fact of this land to be hidden under a cloak, the shade of a powerful monstrous canopy concealing everything that was happening in Kashmir.

Just before Kohnakhan, coal blackish wood from a hotel attic hung like bats, the shutters to the first floor shops locked in rust and dust having overtaken its name boards: remnants of a burnt down building left to its own destiny very much like my motherland. The security camp ahead of it stared obnoxiously, the barricades manned by stone faced, emotionless faces in fatigues who would only communicate with that discordant whistle, the inharmonious whistle deciding the pace and halts of travelers on this road.  “Yes Major” “Saala Ahista Chalo” “Yes Major”, Kashmiri’s had mastered the art of pleasing the whistle solider, when you call this solider a Major he sure feels elevated. The tipsy turns and bends these security barricades offered had created master drivers out of Kashmir’s, driving license tests were no match for them.  Having crossed this frontier there was a bigger one waiting near a Nawpora hotel which had become a garrison of kinds, more driving and vocabulary skills were put to test here. 

As I neared Khanyar the road in front of me starting emptying even of the few souls I had seen till now, motionless window stills robbed of lively faces, the barber shop was half shuttered, the provision store unattended, and suddenly I had to screechingly brake hard in the middle of the road. A medium height, dark complexioned, pot bellied and thick eyebrow man in khaki was standing in front of me, his finger pointing at me communicating to come out of the car. The shadows of the buildings had overtaken their bunkers and I stood engulfed in motionless confusion, the other peering eyes from within the bunker were feasting on the despondency of their prey, compounding the fear that the enveloping dark of the setting sun was enforcing on me. “M***C*** neeche utroo”, I fumble and drag myself out “Sahab kya hua?” “M*** C*** yeh grenade kahan se hua” “Nahin pata Sahab”, a voice from within the bunker “Maar Dalo Saale Ko”. The dark complexioned, pot bellied raised his carbine pointing towards me; I forgot my verses, prayers failing my memory, I could only watch his finger reach the trigger, the dark shadows of these alleys creating the figures of death demons in front of me. As he tried to press the trigger, the gun (was it the magazine or the chamber) jammed, I got a few seconds more and as he was quick to start refitting the magazine my legs were already giving away, arms dangling as if already lifeless. ‘Foreign militant killed in crossfire’ would make news in some discreet corner of the newspaper tomorrow, I even don’t know what name they would give to me, or may be they spare me the label and just let me be one of the countless natives having been consumed in this inferno, be relegated to a small obituary in print and a life time agony burden for my family. I got blinded in my own wilt, quavering in parallel thoughts of this split second, and then suddenly I get blinded in light: I for once thought it was the angle of death but they were in reality the headlights of a marriage party Swaraj Mazda vehicle coming from the other side of Khanyar beaming on me head on. Could they be my savior angels? The dark complexioned, pot bellied sensed he got witnesses, he reflexes from among his thick eyebrows as an effect of this intrusion, hit me hard with his gun butt and as I fall vented out his anger on the car windshield: as the marriage party vehicle approaches closer I sense my chance, drag myself inside my car and in my desperation try to start a running car which I had not switched off and force my run. As I drove I don’t know how I managed to see from behind a broken windshield, the accelerator just did not seem to take enough of my push, I saw none of the road leading home, I could see nothing.  The pain in my chest from the gun butt blows seemed alien throughout the run for life drive.

The angles had spared me, the lights of faith and hope had overpowered the shadows of hopelessness and fear. I had been given one more chance that many of my fellow natives never got.

Next day I heard the news “minor blast near Khanyar, source unknown, none injured”.



(True Account)



30th May 2011