R Sedhuraman, Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, February 17. The Supreme Court today facilitated the election of office-bearers of the Sikh Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) by allowing the newly-constituted SGPC Board to continue.
A Bench comprising Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale passed an order to this effect after a brief hearing on a petition filed by the SGPC challenging the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict that has restored the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs.
The Bench also issued notice to the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation (SSF), the Union Home Ministry, Punjab government and the Chief Commissioner of Gurdwara Elections seeking their response to the SGPC petition within six weeks.
Arguing for SGPC, senior counsel Harish Salve and counsel Gurminder Singh also sought a stay on the December 20, 2011 HC verdict, pending disposal of its appeal. The Bench, however, ignored this plea.
On the other hand, senior counsel UU Lalit, appearing for the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation, pleaded for fresh elections as the SGPC poll result, declared on September 22, 2011, was subject to the outcome of the HC verdict. While the SGPC election was held without allowing the Sehajdhari Sikhs to vote, the SGPC Board should be elected afresh, he contended.
The SC, however, clarified that this was not possible as the HC judgment had now been challenged. “Suppose we set aside the High Court verdict, what would happen” to the fresh election involving the Sehajdhari Sikhs, the Bench asked.
The Bench heard the case in the form of a “mentioning” (plea for urgent hearing) made by the SGPC, while the SSF was present at the hearing as it had moved a caveat to prevent any relief being given to SGPC without hearing it.
Salve informed the SC that the new SGPC Board, comprising 170 elected members and 15 co-opted members, was notified by the Centre on December 17, 2011. However, the election to the posts of the president, vice-president, junior vice-president and general secretary was not held in view of the HC verdict.
Lalit argued that the Sehajdharis got their right to vote in SGPC election under the Punjab Re-organisation Act 1966 and this could not have been taken away by a Central government notification on October 8, 2003.
The senior counsel also contended that the SSF had sought a stay on the SGPC poll, but both the HC and the SC allowed the poll process to be completed holding that the result would be subject to the outcome of the court case. The SGPC had also accepted this view.
In its appeal, the SGPC said the HC verdict “raises serious issues of law” relating to the power of the Union Government. “It has been the understanding of those well-versed in the tenets of Sikhism that persons, who trim or shave their beard or hair violates one of the cardinal tenets of the Sikh religion and thereby ceases to be a Sikh.”
Once the Sehajdharis were allowed to vote, the doors would be open for persons from other communities, who merely declared their allegiance to the Sikh faith, could claim to be Sikhs and become voters, the petition contended.
The SGPC also pointed out that the HC had “expressly declined to go into the issue of who is a Sikh and whether Sehajdharis, who cut their hair would continue to be Sikhs, but none the less struck down” the Centre’s 2003 notification disenfranchising the Sehajdharis.
While striking down the notification, the HC had not clarified the status of the newly elected SGPC Board.