Supreme Court Decides to Hear Plea Challenging Haryana Sikh Gurudwara (Management) Law on Merits; Rejects Haryana’s objections to maintainability

The Supreme Court has dismissed preliminary objections raised by the State of Haryana to a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Haryana Sikh Gurudwara (Management) Act 2014.

A bench comprising Judge Hemant Gupta and Judge V Ramasubramaniam decided to hear on the merits the petition filed in 2014 by a man named Harbhajan Singh, a member of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak (SGPC) committee.

The petitioner challenged the laws of Haryana arguing that the state legislature did not have the power to establish a management body of the Gurudwara as that power was reserved to the Parliament. The Haryana Act has been challenged as violating the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925, the State Reorganization Act 1956, the Punjab Reorganization Act 1966 as well as the Interstate Corporations Act 1957.

Senior Attorney Shyam Divan, representing the State of Haryana, challenged the continuation of the petition on two grounds: (i) that there was no violation of the fundamental rights allowing the petitioners to invoke Article 32 of the Constitution from India ; and (ii) that by naming the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh as parties to the motions for an order, the petitioners are virtually inviting other states to comment on the legislative jurisdiction of the state of Haryana, which is in abused the legal process.

The Court noted that the applicants belonged to a religious minority in the State of Haryana, a fact which is not disputed by Mr Divan. As a minority, the Court added, the petitioners have the right to profess, practice and propagate a religion, in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution of India and under the terms of Article 26 of the Constitution of India, this minority has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; manage their own affairs in matters of religion; owning and acquiring movable and immovable property; and to administer such property in accordance with the law.

The Court noted that the precedents cited by the state government – Chiranjit Lal Chowdhuri vs. Union of India & Ors., DAV College, etc. etc against State of Punjab & Ors. and Ramdas Athawale v. Union of India & Ors- were not applicable in this case.

“But the above decisions do not fully support the respondents’ position. This Court in DAV College (supra) held that there are two aspects. The first is whether, ultimately, a fundamental right is in fact threatened or violated.As long as a prima facie case of such a threat or violation is established, a claim must be admissible under Article 32. Second, once it is admissible , regardless of whether it is ultimately found that in fact no fundamental rights of the petitioners were violated, the vires of the legislation or the jurisdiction of the legislature to enact the impugned legislation must be considered and determined. Although the first proposition is valid, the second is not, so the entertainment of the motion in brief does not mean that this Court must consider the impugned legislation or legislative authority if it is not found that it violates fundamental rights,” the Chamber observed.

As to the second ground of objection, the Chamber noted that it was “presumptuous”.

“These other states have not challenged the legislative jurisdiction of Haryana State. There is no ongoing inter-state dispute at this time. Since the SGPC controls even the Gurdwaras located in these States as well, the petitioners have seen fit to involve these States as parties”observed the House.

“In view of this, we find that the objection regarding the maintainability of the motions for an order is not viable. The same is denied. Therefore, the two motions for an order under section 32 for the alleged violation of their fundamental rights must be examined on the merits”, said the bench in conclusion.

The case will now be heard on the merits.

Case Title: Harbhajan Singh v State of Haryana and Others (WP(c) 735/2014)

Click here to read/download the order

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