In a first step to pave the way for holding the long pending Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections, the Centre on Tuesday approved the appointment of Justice S S Saron (retd) as Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections.
The proposal was approved by the Appointments Committee of the Union Cabinet.
Once there is official notification, the Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, will set the ball rolling for SGPC elections where fresh voter lists would be prepared, among other things.
Decision days after SAD revolt
The development comes 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 contentious agri Acts passed by the Centre.
Reacting on the issue, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Sunil Jakhar took a jibe at SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal on twitter while referring to the development and citing the Idea Exchange that Sukhbir had with The Indian Express where the SAD chief had said that “PM has taken good steps…have ties with BJP, but it ignored allies”.
Citing the Idea Exchange story on his twitter handle, Jakhar wrote, “BJP’s opening shot, appointing CC for gurdwara elections, knocks out Akali leadership. SAD president capitulates, forgetting farmer’s cause, feels no compunction in singing praises for PM Modi.”
There had been demands from various quarters including from SAD breakaway faction leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and senior advocate and former AAP MLA from Dakha H S Phoolka to appoint the Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections for holding the SGPC elections, which according to them were due since December 2016.
Even the Punjab government, led by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, has been repeatedly writing to Centre to appoint the Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, after Justice Darshan Singh (retd) declined to take up the post in 2018.
An official said that the Centre had not been responding, and the last reminder to this effect was sent in the first week of August.
Last year, Amarinder had also recommended for the post the names of Justice Ranjit Singh (retd), who headed the commission formed by Congress government to probe sacrilege incidents in Punjab, and Justice M S Gill (retd), the head of a panel to look into “political vendetta cases” registered during ten-year SAD-BJP rule. Amarinder had also recommended the name of Justice Mehinder Singh Sullar (retd) even as Punjab and Haryana High Court had sent a list of retired judges for the post.
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 will recommend a panel of suitable candidates for the post, in order of preference, to Appointments Committee of Cabinet for the final selection”.
Punjab CM, while recommending the three names, had 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.
Dhindsa, who heads the breakaway Akali faction Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic), said, “SGPC elections were due for long. I had also written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah earlier this year for appointment of Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections. Badals’ -led Akali Dal was delaying this. Eventually, Centre decided to approve the appointment.” On timing of the Centre’s decision, Dhindsa said, “When the alliance broke, Centre probably decided to eventually approve the appointment to pave way for the elections.”
Shiromani Akali Dal spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said, “There should definitely be a Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections. We are for it.”
Reacting to allegations of Dhindsa that Badals’ led Akali Dal was delaying the appointment when in alliance with BJP, Cheema refuted the allegations and added, “Home Ministry makes the appointment. Ask them”.
Cheema added that following the Supreme Court directions, the SGPC House elected in 2011 “assembled in 2016” and hence polls maybe held as per the schedule.
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.
SGPC elections, as per laid down provisions, are to be held every five years. 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 (Sikhs with shorn hair) 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.
Ready for SGPC polls: Dhindsa
Dhindsa added, “We are ready for SGPC elections. We will collectively fight these elections with Ravi Inder Singh-led Akali Dal 1920 and Bhai Ranjit Singh-led Panthic Lehar. We also hope that Ranjit Singh Brahampura, who heads another breakaway faction SAD (Taksali), will also be with us in SGPC polls.”
Terming it as an initial step for SGPC elections, Phoolka said, it may take from six months to a year once the notification to appoint Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections was formally issued. “New voter lists will have to be prepared, objections will be received, there may change in the areas in a particular constituency. It may take from six months to a year. It is a welcome step,” said Phoolka, who had been taking up the issue and a day after Gobind Singh Longowal was elected as SGPC president for third consecutive term and the SGPC executive committee reconstituted. He had written to Punjab CM in December last year, renewing his demand that the CM should meet the Union Home Minister in connection with fresh SGPC general house elections.
In the letter where he recommended names of three retired judges, Amarinder had 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.”
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