December 20, 2011 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Chandigarh (December 20, 2011): A three judges constitutional bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court today pronounced the much-awaited verdict on the voting rights of non-practising “Sehajdhari” Sikhs in Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC) polls.
The Court has set aside October 8, 2003 notification issued by the the Central Government of India, disbanding “sehajdharis” from voting in SGPC elections. SGPC is a statutory body elected for managing affairs of major historic Sikh Gurudaras in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal.
“Court has set aside the notification on technical grounds, that the Central Government of India had failed to follow the due procedure besides issuing the notification” Advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, who was present in Punjab and Haryana High Court, informed Sikh Siyasat Network over phone.
The Central government was required to approve the notification in Parliament, which was never done, therefore the Court today declared that this notification has binding force.
Legal experts say that this decision has automatically restored the voting rights of “Sehajdharis” without deciding this matter on merits, but it is doubtful that the decision itself would effect the newly held elections of the SGPC.
The case pertained to a petition filed by “Sehajdhari Sikh Federation” and two others challenging the October 8, 2003 Central notification which deprived Sehajdhari Sikhs of their voting rights in SGPC polls. The petitioners had mainly challenged the Union government notification “whereby Sahjdhari Sikhs are not being considered as Sikhs in view of the impugned amended Section 49 and Section 92 of the Gurdwara Act”.
The petitioners had submitted that the original Act declared Sahjdhari Sikhs as qualified electors for SGPC elections and the apex court had in numerous judgements held that the state cannot regulate the definition of religion.
It had also been argued by the petitioners that state authorities cannot fetter the definition of Sikhs in general, and Sehajdhari Sikhs in particular, when religion is not within the bounds of any kind of legislation.
Earlier, on October 19, a full bench comprising justices Surya Kant, M M S Bedi and Muttaci Jeyapaul of the high court had reserved its verdict after hearing lengthy arguments preferred by Union government, SGPC, Punjab government and the petitioners.
The Union government had made it clear before the HC that the notification issued by it in October 2003, withdrawing the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs, was with “due application of mind and was within their domain”.
The HC has also examined the entire records pertaining to the notification including resolutions, communications, parliamentary debates, etc., especially in reference to section 72 of the State Reorganization Act, 1966.