More than a month after Appointments Committee of the Union Cabinet approved the appointment of Justice S S Saron (retd) as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, to set the ball rolling for much- awaited Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the Punjab and Haryana High Court retired judge is yet to assume the charge. Reason: the office of Gurdwara Election Commission in Sector 17, Chandigarh, is in a shambles — furniture broken, power supply snapped on two of its floors, old record gathering dust and a handwritten sheet on the entrance identifying the place as Gurdwara Election Commission.
Justice Saron, it was learnt, has visited the office twice in the recent past and sought its renovation and availability of staff so that he may take charge and start working. A visit to the office on Tuesday, however, revealed that no renovation work has started so far.
A government functionary said it might take around two months for the renovation to complete, once the work starts.
Justice Saron had in fact proposed that he may be given office space in the Secretariat or at some other place, but that was not found feasible.
“As soon as they finish it [renovation], I will join because I have to operate from there,” said Justice Saron, pointing out that to start working he would need staff and infrastructure in place.
Special Secretary (Home) Devinder Singh, when contacted, said, “Discussion has taken place. It (office) would be renovated.” Singh added, “When we occupy the office, little repairs keep on taking place. Joining is not linked to that. Hopefully, he will join soon.”
An official said the Punjab home department had written to departments like Chief Architect Punjab and Public Works Department (Buildings and Roads) seeking “quotations” for the renovation work to be done.
Punjab Chief Architect Sapna Prabhakar said, “I think we got the letter three-four days back for renovation work. It is too early to say anything right now. It has to be examined.”
Justice Saron’s appointment last month was close on the heels of resignation of Akali MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal as Union Cabinet Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal, which controls the apex representative body of the Sikhs, walking out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on the issue of three agri laws passed by the Centre.
In 2018, the Centre had cleared appointment of Justice Darshan Singh (retd) as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections. He, however, had declined to take up the post.
As per a government functionary, the office in Sector 17 remained operational till 2015, a year after Justice H S Brar (retd) completed his tenure as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, in 2014.
Two court cases may delay the process
To pave the way for SGPC elections, the Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, has to prepare fresh voter lists to begin with. However, two court cases — one relating to challenging enactment of separate committee for management of gurdwaras by Haryana and other one relating to Sehajdhari Sikh voting rights issue, pending before Supreme Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court, respectively — may delay the process.
In Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Committee case, Justice Saron said the Supreme Court was examining whether the parties should first approach the Punjab and Haryana High Court or the case was to be taken up directly.
On the case pertaining to Sehajdhari Sikh voting rights issue where the petitioner has demanded inclusion of Sehajdhari Sikhs (Sikhs with shorn hair) as voters in SGPC polls, he said the writ petition was pending before the Punjab and Haryana High Court and next date of hearing was January 21, 2021. “Hence, until these issues are resolved..or there is at least some interim direction, nothing substantial can be done.”
Composition of SGPC house and row over elections
The 191-member SGPC has 170 elected members, 15 co-opted members, the chiefs (Jathedar) of five Sikh Takhts and the head priest of Golden Temple. The current House is dominated by the SAD. The SGPC elections, as per laid down provisions, are to be held every five years. In December 2011, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had nullified the SGPC polls held in September 2011 as it restored the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs (Sikhs with shorn hair) by quashing 2003 notification of the Union government. Based on that notification, Sehajdhari Sikhs were not allowed to vote in the 2011 SGPC elections, but the court during one of the hearings had made it clear that the SGPC poll results would be subject to the verdict in the Sehajdhari voting rights case.
In February 2012, the SGPC moved the Supreme Court challenging the order of Punjab and Haryana Court. In 2016, the Supreme Court while reinstating the 2011 SGPC House referred to an amendment by Parliament where Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925 was amended to deny voting rights to Sehajdhari Sikhs with retrospective effect from 2003.
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