Supreme Court upholds validity of Haryana Gurdwaras Act, dismisses SGPC plea

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the validity of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act, 2014, and dismissed the petition filed by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) challenging the constitutional validity of the law enacted by the Haryana government.

The Supreme Court bench of justice Hemant Gupta and justice Vikram Nath, while examining whether the Haryana Act falls within the legislative competence of the state legislature and whether Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, and Sections 3 and 4 of the Inter-State Corporation Act, 1957, were transitional provisions to meet the immediate requirement of the issues arising out of creation of separate states, held that the 1966 Act as well as the 1957 Act confer power on the Centre for the smooth transition of new states coming into existence as a consequence of the reorganisation. There is no provision in the 1966 Act that confers legislative power upon Parliament in respect of the subjects over which the state has legislative competence in terms of List II. Therefore, the transitional provisions i.e., the 1966 Act or the 1957 Act do not impinge upon the legislative competence of the state legislature to enact a law on the subjects mentioned in the List II, the court said.

On the contention that whether any fundamental rights of the petitioners under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution are violated, so as to entitle the petitioners to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, the apex court said the members of the Haryana committee have to be elected from the eligible voters who are Amritdhari Sikhs, a Sikh, and who is 18 years old, but not a Patit Sikh and is not an insolvent, mentally retarded or an insane person. The co-option is from the members of the community alone. Therefore, the affairs of the religious minority in the state i.e., Sikhs is left in the hands of the Sikhs alone in the same manner as was under the 1925 Act.

The Haryana Act also provides for Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission in the same manner as is provided under the 1925 Act. The affairs of the gurdwara are again required to be managed by the local gurdwara committee. Since the affairs of the Sikh minority in the state are to be managed by the Sikhs alone, therefore, it cannot be said to be violative of any of the fundamental rights conferred under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

The Haryana Act that provided for an overriding effect on other laws said that the provisions of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, which empowers the Amritsar-based SGPC to manage and control Sikh shrines, will cease to have any application within the territory of Haryana from the date of the commencement of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act.

However, the Act also provides that any rule made under Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, or regulation framed by the corresponding legislation on the subject shall continue to remain operative in Haryana for the purpose of implementation of this Act till the rules or regulation are suitably amended or redrafted by the Haryana government or the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC).

The Act not only provided for vesting of all moveable and immoveable properties of gurdwara in the committee and executive board, it also said that all budget estimates, obligations and liabilities incurred, contracts entered into and matters and things sought to be done by, with or for the Punjab Sikh Gurdwara Board shall be deemed to have been made, incurred, entered into or sought to be done by the committee.

Ad-hoc committee to take over assets

An ad-hoc committee nominated by the Haryana government was to take over all assets of gurdwaras, including moveable and immoveable properties. The ad-hoc committee was to manage and supervise all moveable and immoveable assets till elections are held for the establishment of a Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

According to the provisions of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Act, the ad-hoc committee can continue to manage the affairs of gurdwaras for a maximum period of 18 months till the new committee is constituted.

The ad-hoc committee, as per the Haryana law, will comprise 41 government-nominated members who will elect their president, vice-president, general secretary, joint secretary and six members in its first meeting. These shall be the members of the executive board of the committee.

Charge to be handed over to elected panel

The ad-hoc committee and executive board will cease to exist after the formation of a new executive committee. After the new elected Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras Management Committee takes charge, the ad-hoc committee will hand over the charge to the newly elected committee.

According to Section 47 of the Act, a registered Singh Sabha may in relation to any local gurdwara under its control decide by a resolution for affiliating that gurdwara to the committee by a three-fourth majority. If the committee gives its consent, the gurdwara would be affiliated to it. Subsequently, all assets and liabilities of the affiliated local gurdwara and Singh Sabha will vest in the committee.

Daduwal thanks Modi, Shah and Khattar for support

Welcoming the judgment, HSGMC president Baljit Singh Daduwal thanked the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar “for their support in the fight of Sikhs of Haryana that helped win this battle”.

He also expressed gratitude to former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for forming the committee and giving rights to Sikhs to hold control of gurdwaras in Haryana. He urged members of the Sikh community of Haryana to celebrate this victory. He said the HSGMC will take control of 52 gurdwaras, educational institutions and trusts and hoped its work meets public expectations.

How the law came about

The Haryana Vidhan Sabha had on July 11, 2014, passed the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill, paving the way for better autonomous management and effective supervision of gurdwaras and their properties The Bill was assented to by the governor on July 14, 2014, and thus became a law.

There are 52 gurdwaras in Haryana mentioned in Schedule 1, 2 and 3 of the Act. The management and control of 48 are with the SGPC.

The Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee has under its control four gurdwaras – Chatthi Patshahi and Nauvi Patshahi, Cheeka in Kaithal, Navin Patshahi in Thanesar, Kurukshetra, Dayoddhi Sahib Navin Patshahi, Navin Patshahi, Jagadhri in Yamunanagar.

The petitioners had challenged the Haryana Act on the grounds that the management of gurdwaras in Haryana has been taken away from the SGPC, which is an inter-state corporation by virtue of Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act and this could not have been done by the Haryana legislature.

The 2014 Act, the petitioners contended, was not sent for the assent of the President as required under Article 254 (2) of the Constitution. The enactment of law was in direct violation of fundamental rights of the Sikh community of which the petitioner is a member to manage its religious affairs guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution that included establishment and charitable purposes and to manage its own affairs in matter of religion.

The state government had in its response said that the object behind the enactment of the 2014 Act was to empower the Sikh community in Haryana. It said that the significance of the federal structure under the Constitution and effective devolution of legislative competence on the states is the principal issue in the present dispute and the 2014 Act has been validly enacted under entry 32, list 2 of the seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The state contended before the Supreme Court that the 2014 Act does suffer from the vice of manifest arbitrariness and there was no violation of Articles 14 and 26 of the Constitution.

Genesis: Discontent and discrimination

As per the statement of objects and reasons of the Haryana Bill, it is an earnest effort to provide a legal procedure by which such gurdwaras owing to their origin and habitual use, regarded by Haryana Sikhs as essentially pious places of worship would be brought effectively and permanently under the exclusive control of the Sikhs of Haryana for their proper usage, administration, control, financial management reforms to make it consistent with the religious views of the community.

“There has been a simmering discontent in the minds of the Sikhs of Haryana that they are being discriminated, discarded and not given due importance with regard to the affairs of the gurdwaras in the state. The SGPC is managing the affairs of the Haryana gurdwaras from its headquarters in Amritsar and the gurdwara funds are being used to the detriment of the Haryana Sikhs other than the purposes for maintenance of gurdwaras, institutions or other social organiations by the SGPC in view of their own whims,’’ the statement said.

It said Haryana Sikhs are not consulted before the use of gurdwara funds collected by them through donations among themselves. There have been many representations from Sikh bodies and individuals from Haryana for constitution of a separate Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee owing to the apparent discrimination meted out to the Sikh community of Haryana in participating and effectively managing their religious affairs, including management of gurdwaras situated within Haryana besides considerable grievance for non-transparent and proper utilisation of funds.

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