Can Jammu and Kashmir sustain ‘Darbar move’? High Court rings the bell on 147-year-old practice of shifting capital

Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories by the Centre last August. The erstwhile state was practicing the Darbar of shifting the capital from Jammu and Srinagar every six months incurring an expense of more than Rs 200 crore.

Can Jammu and Kashmir sustain ‘Darbar move’? High Court rings the bell on 147-year-old practice of shifting capital
Jammu and Kashmir High Court. File Pic IE

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has asked the Centre and the Union Territory administration to look into the 147-year-old trend of the biannual Darbar considering the financial implications. In its 93-page judgement, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Geeta Mitta and Justice Rajnesh Oswal suggested to discontinue the practice of the biannual movement of the Darbar wherein the capital of Jammu and Kashmir is shifted every six months from Jammu (winter capital) to Srinagar (summer capital).

It asked whether the “hopelessly fiscally deprived Union Territory” could afford to continue the practice of shifting the capital every six months and listed several reasons made by senior advocate Monika Kohli why it should discontinue. The move involves shifting the entire civil secretariat and other government offices between the two capitals.

Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories by the Centre last August. The erstwhile state was practicing this tradition of shifting the capital from Jammu and Srinagar every six months incurring an expense of more than Rs 200 crore.

“Can any Government afford the annual expenditure of at least Rs 200 crore to sustain and perpetuate an arrangement of bi-annual shifting of its Capital two times a year, which originated in 1872 from the discomfort of the then Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir with the harshness of the winter in Kashmir?” the HC asked.

“More so, 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 said.

The High Court gave the historical perspective of biannual darbar movement while hearing a self-adopted public interest litigation. However, the court did not issue any direction to the government expressing its inability to pass an order.

The bench said it had listed its “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”. The court deferred this task to the best wisdom of those on whom the Constitution of India bestows this solemn duty.

The judgement has been served to the Union Home Secretary and Chief Secretary of the UT. The court directed that the same should be placed before competent authorities for examining the matter.

Notably, the Union Territory administration has ordered postponing the formal opening of the Darbar in Srinagar from May 4 to June 15.

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