Stepping in to defuse the situation, the Supreme Court on Thursday restrained Haryana’s new Gurdwara Management Committee from taking over any more gurdwaras in the state and ordered a status quo.
A bench led by Chief Justice R M Lodha said the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC), which is currently managing most of the 52 gurdwaras in the state, shall also be bound by the status quo order.
A total of 52 gurdwaras, under the new law by Haryana, have been categorised under three Schedules. Schedule I has eight gurdwaras that are historic in nature. Schedule II has 17 gurdwaras which have an annual income of more than Rs 20 lakh and Schedule III has 27 gurdwaras which have an annual income of less than Rs 20 lakh.
“We are satisfied that status quo with respect to subject gurdwaras, mentioned in Schedules I, II and III of the impugned Act, shall be maintained by all concerned parties. We therefore direct SGPC and Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) to maintain status quo as existing at 2.30 pm on August 7, 2014 in all respect,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
The court asked Haryana’s Director General of Police and Superintendents of Police of all the districts to ensure maintenance of law and order across the state. It observed that it was the “constitutional obligation” of the state to have law and order situation under control and added that nobody should try to forcibly take possession of the shrines only because they thought it the correct thing to do.
The bench also asked HSGMC and SGPC to open separate bank accounts to keep the offerings of the 52 gurdwaras till the time the court rules on the validity of the law enacted by the Haryana government last month.
While adjourning the matter for August 25, the court said: “Time is the healer. Nobody will take law in their own hands. All of you proceed with a cool head now. We are sure you (counsel for parties) will argue (on the next date) more dispassionately.”
The court passed the order a day after clashes were reported in Haryana as supporters of the newly formed committee tried to forcibly take over the ‘Chhevin Patshahi’, one of Haryana’s prime gurdwaras. The police had to use batons, water cannons and tear gas shells to disperse the protesters. All notified gurdwaras in India are currently under the SGPC.
Hours after the Supreme Court’s interim order, both sides called truce.
SGPC’s former president Bibi Jagir Kaur, who had been camping in Kurukshetra for the past three days, told reporters, “This is the victory of truth. The Haryana government’s conspiracy has failed. The gurdwaras which SGPC had been managing for all these years shall remain in our control till the Supreme Court rules it otherwise. Efforts being made by HSGMC members and supporters to forcibly occupy our places of worship shall not stand any chance now.”
HSGMC president Jagdish Singh Jhinda said, “We have full faith in the country’s judicial system and respect it. We shall continue our struggle in the court of law now. Our committee was constituted as per the legal provisions prescribed under the Constitution. The separate SGPC Act for Haryana has full legal validity and sanctity and even the courts shall honour it. This is our legal right and we shall definitely get it.”
Earlier, during the court hearing, while SGPC maintained that they have lost control over just one gurdwara in Kurukshetra, the state government’s status report claimed that the new Sikh body was in possession of at least four shrines. As per Haryana government’s counsel Raju Ramachandran, the taking over was “peaceful,” which the SGPC counsel countered saying the state government was not taking proper action.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi also adduced for court’s perusal an intelligence report, citing the “tense” situation in the state over the row over gurdwara management. Rohatgi assisted the petitioner’s counsel Harish Salve in building up arguments that Haryana’s new law was “ultra vires, illegal and lacked legislative competence” since it was framed without the concurrence of the Centre.
The court said now that it has already passed the interim order, it would examine arguments on the state government’s legislative competence on August 25. It is hearing a PIL by Harbhajan Singh, an elected member of the SGPC, who has sought to the Haryana law declared as ultra vires and illegal.
Inputs from ENS, Chandigarh