R Sedhuraman, Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, September 19. Breaking its long silence in the Supreme Court, the Centre has strongly defended its October 8, 2003, notification withdrawing the right of Sehajdhari Sikhs to vote in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections.
“The notification was issued by the competent authority after due deliberations and application of mind,” the Union Home Ministry said in an affidavit filed in the SC through Under Secretary Ranvir Singh. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, however, quashed the 2003 notification on December 20, 2011, on a petition filed by the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation (SSF) and others.
The HC “erred in law in striking down the notification” without appreciating that the Centre was “well within the legislative competence” to issue the order disenfranchising the Sehajdharis, the Home Ministry said.
The notification had been issued keeping in view the three SGPC resolutions (dated November 30, 2000, March 30, 2001, and March 7, 2002) and the powers conferred upon the Central Government by sub-section (1) read with sub-sections (2) and (3) of Section 72 of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, the ministry said.
The Centre rejected the SSF’s contention that separate forms for Keshdhari Sikhs (Form-1) and Sehajdharis (Form1-A) for their enrolment as voters were in violation of the 1925 Gurdwaras Act. “The contention of the respondent (SSF) is misconceived and devoid of any merit. No doubt, the term Keshdhari Sikhs has not been defined in the Act. But the fact remains that the term has been used at various places in the Act,” the ministry said, citing Sections 45(1)(vi), 46(vi), 90(1) (viii) and 90(vii).
A perusal of Sections 49 and 92 of the Act “shows that only those Sikhs are now eligible to vote who do not trim or shave their beards or kesh, except in case of Keshdhari Sikhs, so the contention of the respondent that Form-1 prescribed under the Sikh Gurdwaras Board Election Rules, 1959, for Keshdhari Sikhs is in violation of the provisions of the Act is baseless and incorrect,” the Centre said.
Further, Parliament enacted the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, empowering the Centre under Section 72 of the Act to issue amendments under the provisions of Part III of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, the ministry pointed out.
The SSF has questioned the Centre’s competence to withdraw the Sehajdharis’ voting right conferred on them by the legislature.
On this, the ministry said Section 72 of the 1966 Act “commands the Central Government not only to issue directions for smooth functioning of inter-state body corporate but also to add exceptions or modify the Central Act, state Act or provincial Act.
Hence it is not a delegated legislative power, rather they speak of Parliament’s explicit direction to the Central Government to modify laws, if so required. Thus, the notification dated October 8, 2003, issued in deference to such command, is deemed to be an act of parliamentary legislation.”
The authorisation given to the Centre “is unrestricted and exercisable to any extent”. Further, the provisions of a re-organisation law “are equivalent to the declarations of law made by Parliament” and these declarations “are not justiciable”, the Centre contended. The SGPC has come to the SC, challenging the HC verdict restoring the Sehajdharis’ voting right.