Though qualifications for the co-opted members as well as the elected members prescribed respectively in Section 46 and Section 45 of the Act are almost the same but a few differences may be noted. One, there is an additional qualification in S. 45 (2) that requires the person to be registered on the electoral roll of any constituency. Such a qualification is not required for a co-opted member for obvious reasons.
Second, Section 46 (ii) provides that a person shall not be co-opted as a member of the Board if is he is not a Sikh. But there is no specific requirement for an elected member to be a Sikh in Section 45. It may be mentioned that this qualification is impliedly included in Section 45(2), which allows only registered voters to be elected as members and only Sikhs can be registered as voters.
Third, Section 46 (v) directly mentions ‘patit’ as disqualified from being co-opted while Section 45(3) prescribes it only in a round about manner, not prohibiting him to seek the election initially but to declare his election void if he is found to be so.
Fourth difference is quite latent. Wording of Sections 45(vi) and 46(vii) is exactly similar; a person shall not be a member if he being a keshadhari is not a amritdhari. But some difference can be found when Section 45(vi) is read with recently amended proviso to Section 49 which does not allow persons with hair-cut to be voters. Since elected member must be a registered voter first, he will have to be a keshadhari and as required by S. 45 (vi) a keshadhari must be amritdhari. Thus all elected members are indirectly required to be amritdharis but a non-keshadhari may be co-opted as SGPC member who need not be amritdhari.
The qualifications for both the categories being generally the same, it would have been better if qualifications for all the members were prescribed in a single section.
The qualifications for election and nomination as member of the Committee of Management as mentioned in Sections 90 and 91 respectively are exactly the same as those prescribed for the elected and co-opted members of the Board in sections 45 and 46.
It is pertinent to mention that much laxity is prevalent amongst the members in the observance of various requirements laid down in Section 45 of the Act. A circular dated June 4, 2001 issued by SGPC Secretary noted that many members of the SGPC are patit and warned them of strict action if they don’t ractify themselves. Two days later Akal Takht Jathedar also emphasised on the necessisty of ‘true Sikhs’ for the management of Sikh shrines and accused SGPC members of use of liquor and money in their election. Earlier Jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib in an open letter to SGPC members dated March 20, 2001 had levelled similar allegations which are true in the case of a good number of members.
In the same tone Dal Khalsa, a Sikh organisation, has urged all the SGPC members to submit their performance report and also to fill up an affidavit which should read, inter alia, “I take an oath before the open court of the Khalsa Panth that I do not consume intoxicants like liquor, opium etc., I recite nitnem and meditate on the holy name daily. I do not keep faith in any religion other than Sikhism. I believe in no other holy book than Guru Granth Sahib. I follow reht maryada as approved by SGPC.”32 Such reminders by the Sikh organisations and Sikh Sangat are of great use and importance for helping the members to make them aware of their role and obligations. Unfortunately, the (then) President of the SGPC Mr.J.S.Talwandi directed the members not to pay any heed to the call of Dal Khalsa as it has no locus standi to seek such a report. Only 11 members have submitted the report and affidavit.33
SGPC resolution dated October 29, 1933, can also be referred to in this context. It had required all its members to fill up pledge forms undertaking never to drink; and they will be allowed to participate ion the proceedings of the SGPC meetings only after filling of such forms. The President had firmly insisted upon the compliance of the resolution. But on a petition of some members in March 1935, the Judicial Commission directed not to insist upon the filling up of the form.
It may be noted that neither any extra or special qualification has been prescribed in the Act nor any convention is developed to co-opt intellectual, knowledgeable and dedicated Sikhs as members of the SGPC. With increasing influence of materialism, religious and moral values have dwindled. Corruption has become rampant all around and even religious places are no exception. Gurdwara money, material and platforms are misused for selfish ends. For the proper, clean and efficient management of the Gurdwaras, the members of the Committees should be honest and morally upright persons having clean public image. If it is not possible to banish the elections from the Gurdwaras, these should at least be cleansed. Party system should be disbanded from Gurdwara elections. Individuals should seek the election on basis of their personal merit. Legislators should not be allowed to contest the Gurdwara elections and vice-versa. It should be obligatory for the candidates to divulge the details of their property and income and also of their dependents besides their educational qualification and criminal record, if any. To have the members with religious instinct, it may be provided that they should be nitnemis and contributors of daswandh just like the members of the non-statutory SGPC of the twenties. Similarly, Sudhai ceremony of those days should also be revived and held after every general election. Service rules require every employee of SGPC to know Nitnem by heart, it may be extended to the SGPC members as well. Yearly elections of Executive Committee are no good; members are put on auction every year. Term of Executive Committee should be extended to two and a half years. Members should be debarred from seeking re-election after having two terms. If necessary, good persons may be allowed to be co-opted unanimously by the House. Conduct of general elections should not be at the convenience of the Government. These should be held regularly.
Concluding Remarks: Guru Granth Sahib is the basis of Sikhism. Due to veneration of Guru Granth Sahib and of its installation place the Sikhs compelled the Government to pass the Sikh Gurdwara Act in 1925. The Act was a remarkable achievement of the 20th century for the Sikh community. The Sikhs got their historical shrines and also the right to manage them. In fact it was an official recognition of independent status of Sikhism and of the right of the community over its religious places. The Act grants due recognition and respect to the reigning Sikh Guru, Shri Guru Granth Sahib.
The Act declares certain places of worship to be Sikh Gurdwaras and provides an in-built procedure for adjudication of other contentious places to be Sikh Gurdwara or not. The Act placed the Sikh Gurdwaras under the management of Committees consisting of and constituted by the Sikhs. For resolving controversies relating to the Gurdwara management, the Act constituted a Sikh Gurdwara Commission. The provisions of the Act referring to Guru Granth Sahib are commented upon.
The Act provides that all those are Sikhs who solemnly declare that they are Sikhs and have no other religion, and believe in Guru Granth Sahib and Ten Gurus. Believers in Guru Granth Sahib and Ten Gurus and not in any other religion are Sikhs. Unlike the Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Act, unshorn hair are not prescribed as a necessary condition in the Act though hair do have immense importance in Sikh ethos. Some changes introduced in the qualification of voters recently do not affect the definition of ‘Sikh’. The Act has been amended to make unshorn hair a necessary requirement for the voters in Gurdwara elections.
The Act defines ‘Sahjdhari Sikh’ as that person who performs ceremonies according to the Sikh rites, does not use tobacco or kutha, can recite mul mantar and is not patit. ‘Sahjdhari Sikh’ does not necessarily refer to non-keshadharis only; keshadharis may also fall within its purview. A patit cannot be a ‘Sahjdhari Sikh’. Apart from Amritdharis, only keshadhari Sikh becomes a ‘patit’ after trimming or shaving as per provision of the Act. So a Keshadhari does not become a ‘Sahjdhari Sikh’ after hair-cut, he becomes a patit.
Definition of ‘Patit’ in the Act requires revision. It only declares Amritdharis to be patit on committing any of the four Kurahits and Keshadharis to be so on getting hair-cut. It is submitted that the keshadharis should also be declared patit on commission of any of the four kurahits just like Amritdharis and non-Keshadharis be declared patit for committing any of the three kurahits.
The Act requires proof of two conditions for declaration of a religious place to be Sikh Gurdwara. The condition concerning user was sufficient for the purpose, another condition concerning purpose or object of establishing the Gurdwara seems to be added to deny the Sikh claims to religious places having ambiguous history. Then court interpretation from 1984 onwards that to be a Sikh Gurdwara, Guru Granth Sahib and Nishan Sahib must be there, is also against Sikh interests. Presence of Guru Granth Sahib in Gurdwara is must but absence of Nishan Sahib should not be used to negate the character of an institution as Sikh Gurdwara. It is an additional burden of proof upon the Sikhs to get a place declared as Sikh Gurdwara.
Only dedicated and honest Sikhs with some special qualifications should be co-opted/nominated as members of the Gurdwara Committees. To prevent the entry of irreligious, unscrupulous, corrupt individuals as members and to get the upright, honest person’s elected/co-opted, the Act need be amended and new conventions be developed. Contribution of daswandh, submission of details of assets, liabilities, education, and commitment towards religion should also be sought from candidates in the nomination papers. Debarring members to be legislators will also prevent the members to use it as ladder for political ascendancy.
Section 134 of the Act provide for dismissal of hereditary office-holders and ministers on their persistent failure to perform duties. It is submitted that a single serious negligent act should be sufficient for such punishment.
A campaign of hatred against the Act is not justified though some alternative is required to be evolved for avoiding the pernicious effect of elections. It seems difficult to manage the Gurdwaras without the statutory regulation due to lack of discipline and dwindling religious and moral values.
It may added that all the general body meetings of the SGPC are held in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib by convention but the members forget about its majestic existence while speaking and behaving therein. They must remember that Guru is present amongst them and their every word and action should be marked by honesty, sincerity and truthfulness; that will be the true homage to the Guru.