Come Darbar Move and the people of Kashmir valley are left with plethora of unaddressed issues. Thanks to the age-old tradition of Darbar Move, Kashmiris are left with no option, but to pursue their matters all the way to Jammu. The ordeal of pursuing the file as it tastes dust from one table to the other in government offices is only worsened by the archaic practice started by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1872.
As part of the biannual Darbar Move, civil secretariat and other move offices closed in Srinagar last week and will reopen in winter capital Jammu on November 5. The government also ordered establishment of Winter Secretariat at Srinagar. It is a welcome move, but it remains to be seen whether the winter secretariat will serve the purpose this time around. In the past also, winter secretariat has been set up in Srinagar with ministers supposed to hear the public. However, how fruitful they proved is anybody’s guess. Infact, winter secretariat turned out to be only a phrase with little results to show for its much hyped claims. The practice may have worked out well had the successive government made serious efforts to put in place a system where people’s matters would be resolved irrespective of whether the secretariat is at Jammu or Srinagar.
Government is meant to serve people at all times. However, the test of its competency can better be gauged during testing times. Winters bring challenges for a common Kashmiri. It is the time of the year when he needs civil servants to stand by him. Many people blame the practice of Darbar Move for the plight of Kashmiris in winters. Some term the huge burden on the ensuing state exchequer as useless while others term the concept outdated in the age of e-governance. The successive governments have been making tall claims of implementing e-governance, but failed to make any headway in this direction. The single window system still seems a distant dream in this land.
It may not be feasible to do away with the existing practice of Darbar Move given the complexity of issues it may give rise to. But there is a huge room for improvement in the governance. There is also a possibility of turning winter secretariat into a workable concept. Delegating powers to top officials can bring about speedy disposal of cases. Officials like Divisional Commissioner Kashmir can be given additional charges and authorization to dispose cases without the need of seeking signatures from other officials sitting in Jammu.
The government has to be more active if it has to build rapport with masses. The officials need to move away from their comfort zones to take firsthand account of the problems faced by people and ensure their redressal without the hassles of travelling to Jammu.
On the eve of the annual Darbar Move some years back, the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had said he will move to the winter capital with a “heavy heart” as Kashmir’s share out of Rs 6500 crore (annual plan for year 2010-11) could not be spent owing to the unrest in the valley. Development has often been the main election plank for the political parties even as they occasionally fiddle with the sensitive political issues underlying the Kashmir conflict. Owing to the armed conflict, the government functioning has been badly affected over the last three decades. The developmental works often come to a standstill.
No doubt the situation in the valley has a bearing on the delivery of development programmes, but the government can chalk out an effective plan to minimize the impact. Making most of the peaceful months is one of the ways to achieve this purpose.
Cloud of uncertainty always looms large on the prospects of peace and development in the valley. Just as the situation seems to be improving, an incident here and there brings the valley back on boil. The government should be aware of this deceptive calm too and take necessary precautions to safeguard the developmental projects. As the civil secretariat shifts to Jammu, the government must devise a plan to compensate for the time and resources lost as far as the developmental projects in the valley are concerned.
At the same time, we must abstain from linking development with Kashmir issue. Kashmir issue should not remain hostage to governance issues and vice versa. Kashmir issue is as old as the partition with new chapters added every year making it only more complex. It is not possible to resolve the longstanding conflict overnight.
Governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration has its task cut out to ensure that the winter secretariat is not reduced to a mere formality or a token symbolic practice. There is a need for radical change in the way Kashmir is administered in winters.