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Haryana passes gurdwara bill

Chandigarh, July 11: The Haryana Assembly today passed a bill to create a panel that will manage historical gurdwaras in the state independently of the apex institution of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

The SGPC — entrusted by a 1925 law to maintain historical gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh — had dubbed the bill a Congress ploy to “divide the Sikhs”. It today announced a sub-committee to look after gurdwaras in the state with all its 11 members from Haryana.

Once the Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill 2014 comes into force, the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 will cease to apply in Haryana, the state government said. Since the 1925 act was passed by Parliament, albeit in the Raj era, today’s law could face a legal challenge.

Sources said Delhi too has such an autonomous gurdwara panel of its own, but it was created by an act of Parliament in 1971.

Congress-ruled Haryana’s principal Opposition parties — the Indian National Lok Dal and the BJP — voiced the “ploy to divide Sikhs” criticism and walked out before the bill’s passage.

“We’ll cancel the bill once we regain power,” INLD leader Abhay Chautala warned.

The SGPC says its collections from the 50-odd gurdwaras it controls in Haryana come to Rs 30 crore a year. But state finance minister H.S. Chatha claims the figure is Rs 200 crore and that most of it is siphoned off to Punjab.

Among the other complaints of the bill’s supporters are the Punjab Sikh leaders’ alleged disregard for their Haryana counterparts and the difficulties Haryana’s Sikhs face in securing rooms during visits to gurdwaras in Punjab. Haryana is home to about 15 lakh Sikhs.

Haryana Sikh activists led by Jagdish Singh Jinda, who was in the Assembly today as a guest, had revolted against the SGPC for allegedly failing to provide enough funds for the upkeep of the state’s gurdwaras.

The Congress’s 2005 Assembly poll manifesto had promised the independent gurdwara panel but it comes only ahead of this year’s elections, due in October.

The bill is meant “to provide for the better autonomous management and effective supervision of Sikh gurdwaras and gurdwara properties in Haryana and matters related thereto”.

The panel will have its headquarters at Kurukshetra and regional offices at Panchkula and Jind. It will have 40 members with five-year terms, elected from 40 “wards” the state will be divided into.

Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said there was no need to send the bill to the President for approval as the Assembly was competent to enact it. He said the governor’s assent would be enough.

Akal Takht priest Giani Gurbachan Singh has appealed to Haryana’s Sikh leaders to stay away from the panel saying it could cause a rift in the community. The Akal Takht is the highest temporal body of the Sikhs.