Non-baptised Sikhs can vote in SGPC polls: Court (Lead)

December 20th, 2011 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram Chandigarh, Dec 20 (IANS) Quashing an October 2003 central government notification, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday allowed voting rights to Sehajdhari or non-baptised Sikhs in elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the mini-parliament of the religion.

The bench comprising Justice Surya Kant and Justice M. Jeyapaul, quashed the Oct 8, 2003 notification of the central government under which the Sehajdhari Sikhs were barred from voting in the SGPC polls. There are around 60 lakh voters for the SGPC elections.

Sehajdhari Sikhs are those who cut or trim their beards and hair in violation of the Sikh religious tenets. Otherwise, such Sikhs follow the religion, its gurus and the Sikh holy book, Granth Sahib.

The Sehajdhari Sikh Federation, a registered political party, had filed a petition before the high court seeking voting rights for such Sikhs in the SGPC polls.

A controversy had erupted in September this year, just days ahead of the Sep 18 SGPC general house elections, after lawyer Harbhagwan Singh, who claimed to be appearing on behalf of the central government, told the high court that the central government had withdrawn the October 2003 notification.

After a major controversy in Punjab, union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made a statement in parliament saying that no notification had been withdrawn and that Harbhagwan Singh, a former Punjab advocate general, was not authorised to represent the central government in the court.

The SGPC, an elected religious body of Sikhs for control and management of gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, has an annual budget of nearly Rs.600 crore.

The SGPC is completely dominated by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal party.

The notification barring non-baptised Sikhs from voting was passed in 2003 during the National Democratic Alliance regime following a resolution adopted by the SGPC March 30, 2002.

Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the verdict on the voting rights of the Sehajdhari Sikhs.

He said that it vindicated his stand that the Sehajdhari Sikhs had due right to vote in the SGPC elections as they very much belonged to the Sikh religion. He said they were denied the right in an arbitrary manner by the Akali Dal led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

He said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance central government, of which the Shiromani Akali Dal was a constituent, had got the arbitrary notification issued in 2003 at the behest of Badal.

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