Thousands of government documents and office equipment were packed into cardboard cartons and steel trunks, and loaded onto some 200 trucks that drove them over 300 km to Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
This biannual ritual of relocating the state secretariat and other government offices from winter capital Jammu to Srinagar, called Durbar Move, was started by Dogra ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh and has endured for the last 144 years.
As the Durbar closed phase-wise in Jammu on April 29 and 30, thousands of government employees boarded buses to travel in batches over four days to Srinagar. The ‘Record’s Convoy’ and the employees’ buses were escorted by police teams, a crane and empty buses and trucks.
Ministers, legislators and around 5,000 government employees — from top bureaucrats to helpers — moved this year, according to official estimates. Each employee was paid a travel allowance of Rs 15,000 — increased from Rs 10,000 earlier this year. This year, 49 offices of the state government moved in ‘full’ and 52 others did so in ‘camp’, wherein only 33% of their staff or 10 officials (the minimum) moved.
The Durbar opened in Srinagar on May 2, and will move back to Jammu in November.
Documents from the Estates Department website show that about 2,000 rooms were booked in 79 hotels in Srinagar to accommodate the visiting employees. In addition, more than 200 employees were allotted rooms in the tourism department’s facilities, around 600 employees in government quarters and about 50 officials in private properties.
Srinagar also got a facelift. In the first week of May, potholes were filled, and zebra crossings and railings were repainted. Officials said preparations for the Durbar Move included improvement in security, sanitation, accommodation and transportation facilities as well.
Though no information on the total cost of the move is released by the government, each department prepares its own estimate, top government officials told HT. However, recent media reports pegged the total expenditure at around Rs 100 crore.
In 2012, then chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “Do I think the ‘Durbar move’ is a waste of money? Yes I do. Is there an alternative? I haven’t seen a viable alternative suggested.”
Though some, like the former CM, find the expenditure and waste of time unnecessary, not everyone is against this relocation.
“I personally feel this is a desirable thing because there is no other state in the world like Jammu and Kashmir, which is so diverse in language, culture, religion and topography,” said state education minister Naeem Akhtar. “Money spent in Durbar Move is a very small proportion of what is spent in running the government. The social interaction that it provides cannot be measured in money.”
Reports show that former chief minister Farooq Abdullah tried to keep the secretariat at Srinagar permanently in 1987. But faced with opposition in Jammu, he reversed the decision within a month.
“No government can stop the practice of Durbar Move now, for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” said prominent Kashmiri columnist Zahid G Muhammad.
Experts say the two regions of the state are greatly diverse, and people from neither would want the capital to be shifted permanently to the other.
Political scientist Professor Noor Ahmad Baba said a mechanism needs to be developed to have the administration simultaneously in both parts of the state with the help of modern technology if the Durbar Move is to be done away with.