The abolishment of the century-and-half old practice of ‘Darbar Move’ or the shifting the capital between Jammu and Kashmir, by the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration on June 21, 2021 is still getting a mixed bag of responses. The government had proposed that the step would ensure smooth functioning of the civil secretariat in the twin capitals across the year, and save the expenditures of around 200 crores rupees that could instead be used for the development of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in the years ahead.

The tradition of shifting the capital first began by the Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1862 as an attempt to escape the scorching heat and extreme winter weather of Jammu and Kashmir respectively. For over 160 years, it led to functioning of the governance consecutively for six months from both capital cities of the Union Territory.

However, it has been said that many businesses are still facing losses. In Jammu, owners of hotels and lodges expressed worry over the decline in business over the past two years and urged the administration for restoration of the "Darbar Move."

President, All Jammu Hotels and Lodges’ Association Pawan Gupta, stated that Hotels in Jammu used to be completely booked during the winter season. According to him, the Darbar move was crucial in boosting the local economy, but now small-scale hotels have been suffering alot. “In the past, people used to travel to Jammu city during the winter for secretariat work, which benefited the hotels. Additionally, the department of Estates used to reserve hotels for secretariat employees,” said Gupta.

Now as there is a direct train service to Katra, the base camp visiting the Mata Vaishno Devi Temple, pilgrims no longer travel to Jammu before continuing on to Katra.

“We don't oppose the direct train because it's a developmental process, but we seek special initiatives from the administration to increase tourism in the Jammu city, focusing on the religious tourism that will help us survive and keep our hotels operating efficiently,” added Gupta.

Arun Gupta, President of the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, “the bi-annual Darbar Move process was intended to maintain communal harmony and brotherhood, particularly among the people of Jammu and Kashmir regions.

“Jammu and Kashmir have different cultures, and this movement was a way for people to meet and learn more about one another. Ending this process would have a negative effect on the long-standing relationship between the two regions and their people”.

Anoop Mittal, President Kanak Mandi Traders Association Jammu, said “after the abrogation of Article 370, removal of the Darbar Move was highlighted as a step to cut down on time and energy spent, along with the expenses of approximately Rs 150-200 crores spent on transportation.

“Eradication of the move in a way helped the Government to save their own expenses taking away the pros of that the shift in governance used to bring forth,” said Mittal.

However, he feels that although the abolishment of the move in a way helped the government to save their expenses, but we are missing out on the ‘pros’, as it was more than a shifting of power and ensured socialising between the people of Jammu and Kashmir for more than a century.

“The bi-annual move between J&K would bring people from Kashmir to Jammu, and vice versa, which enhanced the cooperation, love, working and brotherhood due to these meetings. Economically or socially, it benefitted J&K more in comparison to now,” said Mittal. He added that the seasonal migration raised the economy of both J&K.

Arun Gupta underlined the negative financial impact post the Darbar move for those whose businesses collapsed. “Moving offices online has some advantages, but we have observed that the stopping the Darbar Move has affected Jammu's property owners,” he said, urging the government to “introspect with all seriousness over reviving back the traditional long practice of shifting the capital again.”

In anticipation of the possibility of the partial Darbar move from next year, as per the new statement by the government, Mittal hopes for the plan to be implemented soon. “Even the partial move will help the UT to grow economically and socially again and many businesses will start to progress, which may matter more in comparison to the 200 crore expenditure. Further, it could boost Jammu’s tourism”, he added.

According to Mittal there was an impact on sales after the move was scrapped. “Any impact on the retail market does pose a threat to wholesale too. As business has turned into a ‘one nation one market’ stage, a businessman from Srinagar is not just buying his goods only from Jammu like before. Losses are expected to happen,” said Mittal.

President Raghunath Bazar Traders Association Jammu, Sanjay Mahajan said, during the move families of government employees from Kashmir also visited Jammu every year. “Overall business used to be higher. Be it hotel bookings, market sales, or the tourism industry, it greatly benefited Jammu’s economy,” said Mahajan.

“Government must plan to establish the tourism industry locally and nationally. In an attempt to initiate this, we have proposed the administration conduct a laser show near Raghunath Mandir, Such initiatives could contribute a lot by grabbing the attention of locals and tourists,” he added.

In Kashmir, tourism is centred around the weather. During winters, the skiing, gondola rides and other adventurous activities attract tourists to visit, “Jammu, however, relies on religious and border tourism. But tourism needs to be built overall,” said Mahajan, adding that Mubarak Mandi and Tawi lake projects also have much to offer in the tourism sector of Jammu.

Underlining this, Director Tourism Jammu, Vivekanand Rai, said that the department is promoting tourism in the Jammu division. “Numerous initiatives have already begun in the city of Jammu, such as the laser fountain show at Bagh-e-Bahu (Bahu Fort). There will be more visitors because there will soon be an amazing amusement park which is in the pipeline,” said Rai.

He added that the strategy was to boost the tourism industry in Jammu, “city of temples” by supporting its growth through religious tourism. “We are working to create a religious circuit that connects not only Temples but also numerous Gurdwaras and Shrines in Jammu. This will be important in increasing tourism in the area.

“In addition, adventure tourism such as trekking, paragliding, rafting, and other activities that draw visitors from all over the world. Therefore, the government is making a lot of effort to support the growth of tourism in this area,” said Rai.

Pooja Kapoor, President Residency Road Traders Association Jammu, said, “the city based or tourist based markets flourished because every item was purchased by tourists. Now both, ending the move, and growth of online shopping have impacted the local vendor businesses largely”.

She added that J&K depends on tourist based revenue and not industry based, hence the need to support tourism and heritage sites would benefit the economy.

However, last year, the government faced a significant opposition when the traders held protests in Jammu after Reliance retail store’s opened here. According to them, as a result, local and small scale shopkeepers may suffer and eventually vanish if such big companies come up in the Jammu market. Supported by scores of traders, the protests were led by the Chamber of Commerce and Industries (CCI) to halt the project.

According to Mahajan, “when big showrooms open up, it becomes natural for traditional markets or bazaars to face its impact. Earlier customers appeared in abundance in local markets like Raghunath Bazar, but after the expansion of the city it encountered some losses too. However, at the end of the day, development cannot be stopped”.

Now, Jammu's trader associations hope that the government provides them with the support they need to operate their businesses without further losses.