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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Gurdwara Legislation

Justice Harbans Singh

The second important matter for your consideration is the Draft of All India Sikh Gurdwaras Bill.  I understand that the brochure, giving the background and the main features of the earlier effort made in 1977, has already been published in the Abstracts of Sikh Studies (p. 39), and you must be familiar with the same.  Five copies of that draft along with the objects and reasons and notes on the clauses and some annexures were sent to late Sardar Atma Singh, then Minister for Development, Punjab, on 8-2-79 for forwarding the same to the Central Government.  No action was, however, taken because of the fall of the Janata Government.  Later on, after the Rajiv Longowal accord, a copy of the draft was circulated to all the States to elicit their views on the matter.  Punjab Government under the Chief Ministership of Shri S.S. Barnala, instead of supporting the draft, which was prepared after full deliberations and consultations with the Government and the S.G.P.C., created a committee under Sardar Natha Singh Dalam, Minister for Public Relations with Dr Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia as Convener.  A paper prepared by Dr Jasbir Singh was considered by the Review Committee and a copy of this paper was sent on 6-6-86 for comments, amongst others, to Sardar Kabul Singh, then President, S.G.P.C. and late Sardar Ajit Singh Sarhadi, former Advocate General Punjab, for their comments.  Sardar Kabul Singh desired that provision should be made to enable the Central Board to have supervision with regard to Maryada over gurdwaras both registered and un-registered.  Mr. Sarhadi stressed that the Punjab Government has un-necessarily delayed the desired action of the Central Government by taking up the question of revising the draft, instead of simply supporting the same, as Punjab Government and the S.G.P.C., had been fully consulted and associated with the draft at all stages and that minor adjustments could be made in due course of its enactment.

A revised draft was finally prepared and sent to the Government of Punjab and a copy of the same sent to me on 26th October, 1986, for information, though I was not associated with the deliberations of the Review Committee at any stage.  A note dated 8-10-1986 by Dr Jasbir Singh and other members of the Review Committee, attached to the revised draft, gives the main features in which the new draft either differed from or amended the earlier draft.

The majority of these points like definition of ‘Sikh’; the significance of takhts and status of jathedars; matter regarding gurdwara properties; elections to be held as scheduled; provision of Sikh Gurdwara Service Commission and reservation for backward classes, are not controversial matters and the differences are only of details between the original draft and the revised draft.

However, whether the registration of gurdwaras other than the historical ones in states other than Punjab and Delhi, should be made mandatory, so as to have supervisory control of the Central Board over all of them regarding Reht Maryada, etc., as has been done in the original draft, or, whether it should be left to the option of the management of the gurdwaras concerned, as is provided in the revised draft, is an important question of basic approach and would require serious deliberations.  One view is that all gurdwaras should be covered just as all Waqfs Institutions are governed by the Waqf Act and all Hindu religious and charitable endowments are governed under the Acts on the subject in force in different States.  Under the revised draft, option is given to non-historical gurdwaras to get themselves registered with the State Board concerned or not.  In both, the original and the revised draft, it has been made clear that the management of non-historical gurdwaras would continue as it was before registration and the State Board will, in no way, interfere in their management or working, except to ensure that the fundamental Maryada of the Sikhs, namely, where there is parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, there would not be worship of any other individual or any other object or any other religious book, is adhered to.  As has been stressed by Sardar Kabul Singh, then President of S.G.P.C. in his note to the Review Committee, Central Board should have power to ensure that the Reht Maryada is followed by all gurdwaras, which can only be achieved if all Sikh gurdwaras are registered.

It may be mentioned here that the main features of the original draft were discussed at length with the representatives of the Sewa Panthi Sampradaya at my residence in the presence of late Sant Nischal Singh Ji Maharaj of Yamuna Nagar, who was then President of the Sampradaya.  He fully agreed that in view of the provision of non-interference by the Board in the affairs of registered non-historical gurdwaras, there could be no objection to these institutions being registered under the Act, particularly, because one member out of the Sikh Sampradayas is to be co-opted on the Central Board.   In view of the above, the proposed exemption of three of the Sikh Sampradayas, viz., Nirmala Mahamandal, Udasi Mahamandal and Sewa Panthi Sampradaya seems to be un-necessary and may be unconstitutional, being contrary to the spirit of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The next point which I would like to deal with is Point No. 9 of the aforesaid note which says, “A separate appellate authority over the Gurdwaras Tribunal has been envisaged in the revised draft so as to ensure that the Gurdwaras litigation does not drag on.... in the ordinary appellate forums.”  It is provided both in the original and the revised drafts that disputes arising out of the working of the Act would be decided by a single Member of the Tribunal and an appeal would, from such order, lie to a Bench of two or more Judges of the Tribunal presided over by a member, who is or has been a Judge of the High Court.  The very idea of providing the decision of such a Bench on appeal as final was to avoid long drawn process of appeals which takes place in the court of the Tribunal provided under the Punjab Act of 1925.  The object of creating that Tribunal was also to shorten litigation.  However, it takes a petition before the Tribunal 12 years or more to get finally decided because of stay orders being granted by the High Court and then there is a first appeal to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court by Special Leave.  Though, barring of the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts would not take away the extra-ordinary writ jurisdiction of the High Court or that of the Supreme Court, yet, if in addition to that, a separate appellate Court is provided, as has been done in the revised draft, that may be defeating the very object of providing Tribunal and hearing of only one appeal by a Bench of the same Tribunal.  This again is a matter for serious consideration.

The only other point of considerable importance is regarding the extent of the supervision that is sought to be exercised by the Central Board, which of course would have representation from all the Boards and also some nominated members of the intelligentsia, and thus, the Central Board would be a representative body.  At the same time, in the original as well as in the revised draft, a federal structure is envisaged in which State Boards would manage the historical gurdwaras in their respective States, without undue interference from the Central Board, except in some important matters.  To the provision that the Central Board may make regulations about the “Sikh Maryada” to be followed by all the Boards and the gurdwaras under the Act, there may not be any serious objection.  However, if the interference by the Central Board is extended to other matters, that may not be to the liking of the Boards other than that of Punjab.  The desire of the Review Committee in extending the supervision of the Central Board seems to be for creating “an integrated federal system.”  This has been done by making provisions to affect that —

   (i) The Administrative Officer of each State Board shall be appointed by the Central Board.  This may be taken as interference in the working of the State Boards and its independence in managing its affairs.

  (ii) Sikh Gurdwara Service Commission,” which is to be appointed by the Central Board shall also serve as Sikh Gurdwara Service Commission for all the States.  However, the desire of each Board may be to appoint its own Sikh Gurdwara Service Commission.

(iii) State Boards and Regional Boards have been authorised to take decision regarding their merger with other State Boards or Regional Boards or to separate from their own Regional Board and form a separate State Board or merge with any other Regional Board.  However, in the revised draft, this has been made subject to the “approval” of the Central Board.  It is felt that it may be enough to convey such decisions to the Central Board by way of information rather than seek “approval.”

The revised draft also contains two new provisions.  First that the Central Board shall appoint two representatives to each of the State Boards (see clause 47).  This is likely to be resented by the State Boards.

Secondly the Central Board, in the original as well as the revised draft, have to manage directly only the five takhts and Sri Harimandar Sahib, Amritsar.  In the revised draft, however, it has been provided that the Central Board may decide to add to this list any Gurdwara(s) to be managed directly by the Central Board.  This again is likely to be resented by the Boards, as this is not subject to the consent of or even consultation with the Board(s) concerned.

These are some of the important points on which a general discussion and a policy decision seems to be desirable by this august body.  I feel that for the discussion of these and other allied matters, it may be helpful to have a sub-committee with some members from States other than Punjab, to enable us to have an idea of the respective viewpoints of different States.

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