Justice Ranjit Singh (retd), who headed the commission formed to probe sacrilege incidents in Punjab, and Justice M S Gill (retd), who is probing “political vendetta cases” registered during ten-year SAD-BJP rule, are among the three retired judges whose names have been recommended by CM Amarinder Singh to Centre for appointment as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections. The SAD has been critical of the two former judges in the past calling them “pro-Congress”.
The third name recommended by Amarinder in a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah earlier this month is of Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar (retd), The Indian Express has learnt.
The SGPC elections have been due since December 2016. Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections must be appointed in order to hold SGPC elections. The post is vacant since 2014, after Justice H S Brar (retd) completed his term.
In the letter, Amarinder referred to the official resolution passed by Punjab Vidhan Sabha on February 14, 2019 which read: “That this House recommends to the state government to approach the central government for conducting the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee elections on account of its term ending in December, 2016 and for the said purpose, Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections be appointed at the earliest. This House also moves that Chief Minister, Punjab, be authorised to raise the said matter with the central government.”
As per the new rules notified by the Union Home Ministry in October 2014 for the appointment of Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, “the central government shall seek from the Registrar, Punjab and Haryana High Court, a panel of at least three retired judges not exceeding the age of 70 years who have retired from the Punjab and Haryana High Court”. As per the new rules, the “Search-cum-Selection Committee consisting of Home Secretary as Chairman and Law Secretary and Secretary, Department of Expenditure shall recommend a panel of suitable candidates for the post, in order of preference, to Appointments Committee of Cabinet for the final selection.
When contacted, Punjab and Haryana High Court Registrar General Harnam Singh Thakur said, “A panel has been sent around two to three months ago”. Thakur declined to reveal the number of retired judges named in the panel. Asked about names of three retired judges sent by the Chief Minister’s Office to Union Home Minister, Thakur said he was not aware of that and hence cannot comment.
Amarinder’s media advisor Raveen Thukral said, “I will have to check.” Advocate General Atul Nanda did not respond.
Amarinder, while recommending the three names, pointed out that that Justice Darshan Singh (retd), who had expressed his inability to take up the post after his appointment as Haryana Real Estate Appellate Tribunal Chairman, had not joined as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections last year after being appointed to the post by Centre.
The CM had recommended the names of the three said retired judges for the post of Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections in March this year too. In the letter to Shah, Amarinder pointed out that he had written a letter in March as well recommending names of Justice Ranjit Singh (retd), Justice M S Gill (retd) and Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar (retd).
The SGPC elections, which as per laid down provisions are to be held every five years, have been due since 2016 after Supreme Court re-instated the 2011 house of SGPC in a verdict in September 2016. In December 2011, Punjab and Haryana High Court had nullified the SGPC polls held in September 2011 as it restored the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs by quashing 2003 notification of the Union government. Based on that notification, Sehajdhari Sikhs were not allowed to vote in 2011 SGPC elections, but the court during one of the hearing had made it clear that the SGPC poll results would be subject to the verdict in the Sehajdhari voting rights case. In February 2012, SGPC moved 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.
The 191-member Shiromani Akali Dal dominated SGPC has 170 elected members, 15 co-opted members, the chiefs (Jathedar) of five Sikh Takhts and the head priest of Golden Temple.
Last month, Senior Supreme Court advocate and former Aam Aadmi Party leader H S Phoolka had written a letter CM Amarinder Singh asking him to meet the Union Home Minister after the formation of new government and press for aapointment of Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections to hold SGPC elections.