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SC stays Haryana gurdwara law

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The Supreme Court today ordered the Haryana government to maintain status quo on the controversial law it has enacted to run the state’s gurdwaras, so long under the control of the Punjab-based SGPC, the supreme body of Sikhs to manage their shrines.

Status quo implies the parties to the dispute have to maintain the position existing at the time the order was passed.

A bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices Kurien Joseph and Madan B. Lokur, while adjourning the matter till August 25, asked Haryana police “to ensure law and order is not disturbed in the state”.

The bench also asked the Haryana government to open a separate bank account for transfer of all collections (received) by gurdwaras till the top court settles the dispute.

At the centre of the controversy is the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara (Management) Act, 2014, that the Bhupinder Hooda-led Congress government has enacted for taking over the administration of all gurdwaras in the state, so long under the management of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), Punjab.

The Punjab government, headed by the Akali Dal-BJP combine, has opposed the new law, saying the power it claims rests solely with the central government.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, who appeared for petitioner Harbhajan Singh, a member of the SGPC’s Haryana unit, and attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the Centre, both urged the court to stay the act.

They said a volatile situation had developed in Haryana and it might have a cascading effect in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi which have a substantial Sikh population.

Senior counsel Raju Ramachandran and state counsel Manjit Singh, who appeared for Haryana, defended the law, saying the state had the power to enact the legislation.

Harbhajan Singh’s petition alleged that he was not only aggrieved as a Sikh over the “hasty enactment” but was also concerned over the state government’s intention to create dissention among followers of the Sikh religion.

The petition said the “rightful members” of the SGPC were in “possession and… in control of historic gurdwaras” in Haryana and a “wilful attempt” was being made by “alleged Sikhs of Haryana prompted by the… government… to wrest control of the gurdwaras by use of militancy and force”.

The situation, the petitioner said, was “so acute” that the state could any time emerge as a “new battleground” over who controls the gurdwaras.

Singh sought the top court’s intervention, saying the administration was “not in a position to defuse the situation” and serious “bloodshed” could take place, creating an “extreme law and order situation bordering on the lines of a civil war”.

The petitioner claimed that only the SGPC had absolute control over all notified gurdwaras under the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, which he said has continued even after the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

“What is objectionable is that (the) state of Haryana has usurped the legislative field which was exclusively reserved for (the) Union of India in terms of Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

“A perusal of Section 72(1) read with Section 72(2) read with Section 72(3) clearly shows that the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, envisaged legislation by the central government… alone” in matters relating to all gurdwaras in the country, the petition said.