The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Tuesday asked decision makers, including the Centre, to look into the necessity of the 148-year-old biannual Darbar move, keeping in mind the financial implication of more than Rs 200 crore incurred by the "hopelessly fiscally deprived Union Territory".
In its 93-page judgement, a division bench of the court headed by Chief Justice Geeta Mittal also listed the suggestion made by senior advocate Monika Kohli, who had highlighted the digitisation of officials records.
Hearing a self-adopted public interest litigation, the division bench gave the historical perspective of biannual darbar move whereby the capital of Jammu and Kashmir is shifted every six months from Jammu (winter capital) to Srinagar (summer capital).
The court said that from the facts placed regarding the Darbar move, the disregard of public interest in its origins and implementation, its adverse effects, the huge fiscal, social and economic costs, amply manifest that its propriety, feasibility and efficacy of the arrangement is one such matter "overlooked and forgotten".
"The material placed before us manifests that there has been no application of mind to the changed circumstances because of technological and scientific advances. Our judicial conscience compels us to ring the bell else we would fail in discharging our judicial duty or to perform our constitutional function as demanded in the interest of the Nation and the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially its common woman and man, the poor and the weak.
"We hasten to add that conscious of the limitations of our jurisdiction, we shall confine ourselves to 'ringing the bell' without anything more."
"We have recorded our reasons and judgment on the several aspects which arise on account of the implementation of the Darbar move in the UT….we have also noted the several steps on which we have no information at all, say, for instance, the cost incurred on the security forces and the police utilised for ensuring" the move.
"We are sure that these costs will be equal to, if not more than the expenditure which has been disclosed to us," Justice Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal said in the judgement.
However, the court expressed its inability to pass an order saying 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.
Deferring this task to the "best wisdom of those on whom the Constitution of India bestows this solemn duty", the division bench asked that the judgement be served on Union home secretary and chief secretary of the UT "with the direction to place the same before competent authorities for examining the issues raised and taking a considered decision thereon."
The judgement began with a question raised by the division bench asking "whether any government can afford the annual expenditure of at least Rs 200 crores (as disclosed and many more hundreds of crores of rupees of undisclosed costs) for shifting of its capital two times a year, a practice which started in 1872 from the discomfort of the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir with the harshness of the winter in Kashmir?"
"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," the court asked.
Kohli drew attention of the court to a report that the Centre had already released around Rs 24 crore for purchase of hardware and software for the Civil Secretariat and also released funds for digitisation of official records.
She had submitted before the court that government records ought not be taken out of its safe holdings and it should be properly secured and preserved at a proper place.
Calling for urgent revisit of old paradigms Kohli gave a historical perspective of the biannual shifting and said the then Maharja Ranbir Singh made the arrangement of shifting the Darbar from Srinagar to Jammu to escape severe winter in the Valley and Jammu heat in the summer.
"The discomfort on account of change of weather in either city, is, today compensated by efficient and modern environment control mechanism as air conditioning, heaters etc in both Jammu as well as Srinagar," she said.
She argued before the court that both the cities were well connected by air and road and said, "It is clearly logical that the consideration of extreme weather in support of the Darbar move does not hold weight today."
The court, in its judgement said, "It is necessary to bear in mind that the Darbar move requires moving government records out of the safe spaces of offices where they are maintained, packing in fragile trunks, loaded into vulnerable hired transportation and exposed to the risk of theft, pilferage, destruction and damage, as they are ferried on the public roads and the National Highway for over 300 kms in all kinds of weather conditions.
"These records would be including sensitive documents and old archives which cannot tolerate exposure of any kind…Such documents may be on matters of security of the country as well as of the Union Territory. This security ought not be compromised for any reason whatsoever," it said.