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‘Sikh affairs to be managed by Sikhs alone’: SC upholds 2014 Haryana law on gurdwaras

New Delhi, Sep 20, 2022 – The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014, allowing formation of a separate committee other than the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) to manage affairs of gurdwaras in the state.

A bench of justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath said: “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 (Sikh Gurdwaras Act). The Haryana Act also provides for Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission in the same manner as is provided under the 1925 Act.”

Justice Gupta, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said: “The affairs of the gurdwara are again required to be managed by 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 (freedom to practice religion) and 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution.”

The Centre had argued that only the Parliament has the exclusive power to enact law on the said subject and there is no justification for the Haryana legislature to have passed a law on the same subject matter, taking away the jurisdiction of the Board constituted under the 1925 Act. It further contended that only the Central government could give directions with regard to functioning and operation of an inter-state body corporate, ie, the SGPC.

However, senior advocates Shyam Divan and Ranjit Kumar, representing Haryana and the Haryana committee, respectively, submitted that the source of power of enactment of the Haryana Act is Entry 32, List II of the Seventh Schedule. In exercise of such power, a statutory body is sought to be created, whereas, Entry 28 of List III deals with charities and charitable institutions, charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions.

“Therefore, any law dealing with charities, charitable institutions and endowments falls within List III. Such law contemplated by List III is a regulatory law to regulate the functioning of charitable institutions or charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions. Whereas, incorporation of a statutory body falls in Entry 32 of List II, as also unincorporated religious and other societies. Therefore, the Haryana Act falls within the legislative competence of the state,” they argued.

The then Haryana government under Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had passed the 2014 Act in the state Assembly, creating a separate juristic entity for the management of historical gurdwaras in the state.

The bench noted that neither the 1956 Act (The 1956 States Reorganisation Act) nor the 1966 Act (1966 Punjab Reorganisation Act) nor the 1957 Act (the Inter-State Corporation Act) has taken away the legislative competence of the states to legislate on the subjects which finds mention in List II of the Seventh Schedule and/or in respect of matters falling in List III of the Seventh Schedule in the manner prescribed.

“The 1956 Act or the 1966 Act empowers the Central government to issue directions to make the inter-state entity functional, but the Central government has not been empowered to legislate in respect of such inter-State bodies which came to be operational in one or more States due to the reorganisation of the States,” said the top court in its 58-page judgment.

It said the 1925 Act was originally an intra-state legislation enacted by the state legislature and it subsequently became an inter-state body only by virtue of the 1966 Act. “Since the power to legislate conferred on the legislature has not been affected in any manner, therefore, the state would have power to legislate both under Entry 28 of List III or Entry 32 of List II for the reason that the 1925 Act is not an inter-state body corporate in respect of which the Parliament incorporated such Board,” it added.

Harbhajan Singh, a resident of Kurukshetra, challenged the law and also did an Executive Committee member of the SGPC, which managed the gurdwaras covered by the 1925 Act and spread over the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Union Territory of Chandigarh.  (Agency)

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