Haryana gurdwara row: SC says maintain status quo
The Supreme Court Thursday directed Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee to maintain status quo in respect of all the 52 gurdwaras in Haryana as of 2.30 p.m. Thursday.
Referring to the home ministry note shown to it by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in respect of developments in the matter, the apex court bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph said: "Having regard to above development, we are satisfied that status quo in regard to subject gurdwaras in schedule I, II and III of the impugned Act shall be maintained by all the concerned."
"We accordingly direct the SGPC and HSGMC to maintain status quo as of 2.30 p.m. today (Thursday) in all respect", the court said.
The petitioner Harbhajan Singh - a member of SGPC from Kurukshetra - has challenged the vires and the constitutional validity of Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014.
The court directed SGPC and HSGMC to open separate bank accounts to deposit the offerings made by devotees in these 52 gurdwaras which are in their possession and management.
Directing the next hearing of the matter on Aug 25, Chief Justice Lodha said: "Time is a great healer. Wait for some time. Proceed with cool head and argue dispassionately and forcefully. Law and order will not be disturbed."
Of the 52 gurdwaras in respect of which the status quo has to be maintained, eight are of historical importance, 17 get offerings of Rs.20 lakh per annum each and the remaining gurdwaras get less than Rs.20 lakh per annum each.
At the outset of the hearing in the afternoon, senior counsel Raju Ramachandran appearing for Haryana told the court about the 2002 judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which was upheld by the apex court in 2008, in support of submission that Haryana assembly had the power and competence to enact the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014, and sought time till Friday to place documents before it.
Raju Ramachandran said this while addressing the court query whether the Haryana assembly had the power to enact the law which is now being sought to be invalidated by petitioner Harbhajan Singh, and what was the source of that power and its legitimacy.
Appearing for petitioner Harbhajan Singh, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that Haryana assembly had no power to enact the law under challenge as it was in conflict with central legislation viz. the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, and the Inter-State Corporation Act, 1957.
Salve told the court that under Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, by which Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were carved out, the SGPC was accorded the status of an inter-state corporation.
The court was told that under the Inter-State Corporation Act, 1957, Haryana was obligated to approach the Centre for its nod before going forward with the enactment.
"If (the newly carved out) State wants to break away from the (inter-state corporation based in the parent State) then under the Inter-State Corporation Act, 1957, it has to expressly take the permission of the Centre," Salve contended.
As Salve argued that the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act was unconstitutional, the court asked him: "Show us under which power they have enacted the (Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014, and then show us that this power is not available to them.
The court also asked Salve and Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to tell it whether Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, was a Central Act or a Provincial Act in terms of Government of India Act, 1919.
Rohatgi told the court that Centre had asked Haryana to roll back the law by asking governor to withdraw his assent to the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014.
"Today Union (central government) is a step ahead" of the petitioner, Chief Justice Lodha observed as attorney general told the court that SGPC figured at serial number 45 of the inter-State Corporation under the Schedule of the Inter-State Corporation Act, 1957.
Earlier during the day, the court after hearing Salve and Rohatgi said it would like to hear SGPC and the ad-hoc committee of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee before saying anything and adjourned the hearing till 2.00 p.m.
(Posted on 07-08-2014)