The mini-parliament of Sikhs has an executive to pass budget, but no House in place to approve it
Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service
Amritsar, April 2. The SGPC, known as the mini-parliament of Sikhs, is passing through an unprecedented crisis in its 92-year history as today it has an executive to pass the budget, but no General House to put a stamp of approval on it.
A day before the SGPC executive meeting, the SGPC has taken a U-turn and stated that its annual budget will be passed by only the executive and will not be placed before the General House for its approval, as it was claiming earlier. This has raised a big question as to whether merely passing of the budget by the executive can bring it into force.
What has led to the crisis
The crisis in which the SGPC finds today has its roots in the Punjab and Haryana High Court order dated December 20, 2011, in which the court quashed a 2003 Central notification denying Sehajdhari Sikhs the right to vote in the SGPC elections. The HC verdict came three days after the new SGPC House was notified by the Union government on December 17, 2011. Prior to it, the Supreme Court had made it clear that the results of the SGPC elections held on September 18, 2011 would be subject to the HC verdict on the voting rights to the Sehajdharis. Subsequently, the Centre did not convene the SGPC session to elect its office-bearers.
As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, the office-bearers are to be elected within a month of the House being notified. The SGPC then moved the SC which allowed the new SGPC House to function on February 17. However, even after the SC verdict, the Centre did not hold the SGPC session. The SGPC moved the apex court again on March 20, seeking a clarification on its February 17 verdict after the Centre attributed the delay in holding the SGPC session to the legal tangle over the Sehajdhari row and dubbed the February 17 SC order as “ambiguous”.
Hearing the SGPC petition on March 30, the SC allowed the old SGPC executive (elected in November 2010) to manage gurdwaras and institutions under the SGPC till further orders. The executive committee of the SGPC is elected in November every year and the 2010 executive was the last panel elected in the old House. Therefore, the SC gave the powers to it while stating that the House elected in September 2011 without Sehajdhari Sikhs’ participation could not be allowed to hold its first meeting and elect office-bearers in the light of the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict that restored the voting rights of Sehajdharis. As a result, the new House of the SGPC cannot function now till further orders of the SC.
What will happen to the budget
As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, the executive committee needs to place the annual budget before the General House and it shall be in the discretion of the House “to pass or reject such estimate or to modify or alter it and to pass it as so modified or altered”.
What legal experts have to say
Legal experts say the executive has no power to bring the budget into force without the nod of the House. Punjab and Haryana High Court lawyer Balwant Singh Guliani said the executive committee could merely run day-to-day affairs of the SGPC. “If the executive had the powers to pass the annual budget on its own what was the need to call a meeting of the General House before March 31 every year in the past? Also if the new House is under the scanner how can it be allowed to chalk out the future plans?” he said. Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission Chairman MS Brar also stated that the executive had no powers to pass the budget on its own. Even major expenses could be passed by it subject to the approval of the General House, he added.
What SGPC president Makkar has to say
SGPC chief Avtar Singh MakkarSGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar said they would discuss and approve the budget proposals in tomorrow’s executive meeting. Regarding the approval of the General House, he said they were seeking a legal opinion in this regard. Earlier, the SGPC had stated that it would place the budget before the new SGPC House for approval after getting it passed by the executive. Sources said the annual budget of the SGPC was estimated to be around Rs 600 crore as compared to last year’s figure of around Rs 580 crore.
Sehajdharis say SC order being misread
Sehajdhari Sikh Federation president Dr PS Ranu said those at the helm of affairs in the SGPC were still misinterpreting the Supreme Court order and were misleading the public. Reacting to Makkar’s statement that the new House shall pass the budget, he said the court had never given any such directions. “The new House can start functioning only when the Central Government issues a notification for holding its first meeting under Section 54 of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925. Any such meeting held against the orders of the court shall tantamount to contempt of the apex court.”