SC stays HC order on Sikh status, way cleared for quota   


NEW DELHI : On May 15 the Supreme Court stayed a landmark order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that had declared that “Sikhs are not a minority in Punjab”. 

The Supreme Court order would, in effect, allow reservation for Sikh students in educational institutions being run by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

The high court had in its order dated December 17, 2007, struck down a notification issued by the State government on April 13, 2001, permitting the SGPC to give 50 per cent reservation to Sikh students in colleges run by it on the ground that Sikhs were a minority community. 

Another notification was issued under the Punjab Private Health Sciences Educational Institutions Act, whereby Christian and Sikh educational institutions were notified to be minority institutions in Punjab for the purposes of the said Act. 

A Bench of Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan and Justice M.K. Sharma granted the stay and issued notice to the respondents, Sahil Mittal and others, on special leave petitions filed by the Punjab government, the SGPC and two others. 

The impact of the stay on the HC order means that Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, and the SGPC-run schools, colleges and health institutes will have the freedom as enshrined under the Constitution that allows special status for minority-run institutions. 

Going by the procedure, it may take quite some time even before the case can be listed for hearing by the SC leave alone deciding it. 

Arguing the matter in the SC, Punjab’s counsel Ajay Pal pleaded that the high court had failed to appreciate that there were a number of sects like Nirmalas, Udasis, Ram Raias, Dera Sacha Sauda, Radha Soami’s and Nirankaris etc. who cannot be considered to be Sikhs.

They have been recognised as schismatic and distinct from Sikhs. Some of these and other sects believe in a living guru, which is contrary to the basic tenet of the Sikh faith.

This fact has even been judicially recognised. The adherents of these sects commonly describe themselves Sikhs and hence are even enumerated as Sikhs in the census. Thus, the census figures ought not to be used as the basis to disturb the minority status granted to Sikh institutions run by the SGPC.

Punjab while appealing against the order of the high court had quoted various judgements in the past 80 years or so that had delinked dasis, mahants and deras from Sikhism.

The state also pleaded that the All India Gurdwara Act, 1925, clearly defined the term Sikh and who could be counted as Sikhs.

The petitioners contended that the High Court erred in law by striking down the minority status of the Sikhs. They said that going by the definition of Sikh as explained in the Sikh Gurdwaras (SG) Act, 1925, only about 53 lakh, roughly one-third of the electoral college of the SGPC, were Sikhs as against the 1.66 crore total voters in the State.

Punjab Sikhs can't claim minority status, rules HC

CHANDIGARH : In a landmark judgement on December 17 Punjab and Haryana High Court declared that the institutions run by Sikhs cannot claim minority status.

The court held the notifications as "void" that declared Sikh education institutions run by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in Punjab as “minority institutions”.

The development is significant as these institutes would no longer be able to reserve up to 50 per cent seats for Sikh students.

Allowing a petition filed by a Barnala-based student who was denied admission to an institute, a Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Ajai Lamba, ruled that notifications issued in April 2001 were void.

Pronouncing the orders in an open court, the Bench observed: “There is nothing to show from the written statement by the state of Punjab that it had any material or even a grievance that, as a group, the Sikhs apprehended deprivation of their religious, cultural or educational rights in the state of Punjab from any other community, who may be in majority and who may gain political power in the elections. On this short ground, the impugned notification cannot be sustained in law.”

In their detailed order, the Bench cited many Supreme Court judgements before observing the country could not have been taken as a single unit, as has been done; and there was no material to substantiate that “Sikhs” were not dominant in the state of Punjab.

As a consequence of the notification, additional protection had been conferred on a group of citizens in an unauthorised manner, while excluding other similarly placed citizens. This was clearly violative of the Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Bench also ruled that the admissions prior to the date of judgement would not be affected, except for the ones which were subject matter of the pending proceedings. “We further direct that the claim of the petitioner be now considered in accordance with the law in the light of this judgement within one month from the date of receipt of the copy of the order,” the Bench further ruled.

In his petition against the state of Punjab, Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, SGPC and the Managing Committee of Sri Guru Ramdass Institute of Medical Sciences, petitioner Sahil Mittal had sought the quashing of April 2001 notification declaring Sikh education institutions in the state as “minority” and permitting them to reserve 50 per cent seats for the members of the Sikh community.

Orders were also sought to quash another notification dated April 2006, and of June 18, 2007. The notifications allowed certain institutions to divide the NRI seats equally between the government quota and the management quota. The petitioner had also asked for quashing the notification dated August 1, 2007, fixing separate fee structure for government quota of management seats.

Govt may go to Supreme Court

The Punjab government may move the Supreme Court against the orders of Division Bench. Advocate-general Hardev Singh Mattewal said the case involved an important legal issue. As such, they would go into all aspects of the case and after perusing the judgement take a decision on moving the apex court.

He added that the SGPC had become an inter-state body after the Punjab Re-organisation Act and was serving four “states” of Punjab, Haryana, HP and Chandigarh. Otherwise also, as per the electoral college, the Sikhs were in minority.
 
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