Published on: September 21, 2022 at 20:43 IST
In Harbhajan Singh vs. State of Haryana and Others, the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutional validity of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act of 2014 on Monday.
The Act stipulates that Sikhs alone would administer Gurdwaras, according to a bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath, therefore it does not violate Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, which deal with religious freedom and handling religious affairs.
The 2014 Act calls for the establishment of a distinct legal organisation to oversee historical Gurdwaras in Haryana.
“The members of the committee have to be elected from the eligible voters who is Amritdhari Sikh, a Sikh, and who is eighteen years of age, but not a Patit Sikh and is not an insolvent, mentally retarded or an insane person.”
“The co-option is from the members of the community alone. Therefore, the affairs of the religious minority in the 56 State i.e., Sikhs is left in the hands of the Sikhs alone in the same manner as was under the 1925 Act,” the Court noted.
The majority of the arguments made in the group of petitions against the Act, including one from the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) of Kurukshetra, claimed that it violated existing statutory and constitutional restrictions.
It was argued that the law infringed fundamental rights and had a divisive motive, trying to sow discord within the Sikh community.
The petitioners’ legal representative stated that the Union government, not the State government, had the authority to enact rules controlling gurdwara management.
It was contended that Haryana must adhere to the 1925 Act passed by parliament for administering gurdwaras (then in undivided Punjab). It was stated that the 1966 Act was likewise based on the same idea.
According to the SGPC, the State had removed its authority to manage Gurdwaras and related properties.
The Bench addressed the following legal issues that emerged in its decision:
Whether Sections 3 and 4 of the Inter-state Corporation Act of 1957 and Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganization Act of 1966 were temporary measures to address the issues that immediately arose from the formation of separate States?
The Supreme Court ruled that, pursuant to the restrictions outlined in the Constitution, neither the 1966 Act nor List II or List III of the Seventh Schedule had the power to prohibit the State government from passing laws.
“The consistent view of the three Full Benches of the High Court and of this Court is that the power of the Centre to issue directions under Section 72 of the 1966 Act is a transitional provision.”
Therefore, we have no hesitation to hold that the power of the Centre to issue directions under Section 72 of the 1966 Act is indeed a transitional provision to ensure smooth and continuous functioning of a body corporate so that it is not paralyzed on becoming an inter-State body corporate due to reorganization of the erstwhile State of Punjab.”
“The directions contemplated by Section 72 relates to functioning and operation of such body corporate. A competent State legislature is not deprived of its power to legislate on the subjects falling within its jurisdiction in terms of List II of the Seventh Schedule.”
Whether the legislation (the Haryana Act) falls within the purview of the Haryana State Legislature’s legislative authority or whether Entry 44 of List I (Union List) of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution applies?
The Bench determined that the State of Haryana has legislative authority over the 2014 Act.
“ … any law dealing with charities, charitable institutions and endowments falls within List III [of the seventh schedule]. Such law contemplated by List III is a regulatory law to regulate the functioning of charitable institutions or charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions. Whereas, incorporation of a statutory body falls in Entry 32 of List II, as also unincorporated religious and other societies.”
It was made quite clear that the legislative authority of the Haryana State legislature to pass legislation on the matter at hand is not affected by the transitory provisions of the prior Acts.
Does the Act belong under List-III (Concurrent List) Schedule VII, which, according to Article 254(2) of the Indian Constitution, required the President’s approval and was null and unconstitutional in the absence of it?
The Haryana Act does not fall under Entry 28 (charitable institutions, religious endowments/institutions) of List III of the Seventh Schedule, the Bench stated in its categorical rejection of the query.
Are the petitioners’ fundamental rights under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution violated in any way that would allow them to request that this Court exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution?
The Bench determined that as local committees must oversee gurdwara matters in the State and since the committee consists solely of Sikhs, Articles 25 and 26 are not breached.
“Since the affairs of the Sikh minority in the State are to be managed by the Sikhs alone, therefore, it cannot be said to be violative of any of the fundamental rights conferred under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.”