legislation passed by the Punjab Legislative Council which marked
the culmination of the struggle of the Sikh people from 1920-1925
to wrest control of their places of worship from the mahants or priests
into whose hands they had passed during the eighteenth century when
the Khalsa were driven from their homes to seek safety in remote hills
and deserts. When they later established their sway in Punjab, the
Sikhs rebuilt their shrines endowing them with large jagirs and estates.
The management, however, remained with the priests, belonging mainly
to the Udasi sect, who, after the advent of the British in 1849, began
to consider the shrines and lands attached to them as their personal
properties and to appropriating the income accruing from them to their
private use. Some of them alienated or sold gurdwara properties at
will. They had introduced ceremonial which was anathema to orthodox
Sikhs. Besides, there were complaints of immorality against them.
All these factors gave rise to what is known as the Gurdwara Reform
movement during which Sikhs had to court jail on a large scale and
suffer atrocity and death.
The British government, who took the part. of the priests, eventually
relented under popular pressure and passed, in the first instance,
Sikh Gurdwaras and Shrines Act, 1922, which envisaged a committee
nominated by the government to take over control of the gurdwaras.
This, however, was not acceptable to the Akali leaders and remained
for this reason a dead letter. The agitation continued and the government
had another draft. worked out. Akali counsel was sought this time
and the principal demand about the shrines being handed over J or
management to a representative body of the Sikhs was conceded. The
bill was moved in the Punjab Legislative Council by Sardar Tara
Singh of Moga on 7 May 1925 and piloted by another Sikh member,
Bhai Jodh Singh, eminent educationist and theologian. The bill was,
in the first instance, referred to a select committee which presented
its report on 20 June. The Council passed the bill on 7 July. It
was published in the Punjab Government Gazette on 7 August and it
became operative on 1 November 1925 as The Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925
( Punjab Act. VIII of 1925).
The act, as it's preamble declares, aimed at providing "for
the better administration of certain Sikh gurdwaras and for enquiries
into matters and settlement of disputes connected there with...."
The Act has three parts. Part I contains, besides preliminary matters
such as title, extent and definitions, reference to gurdwaras covered
by the Act, procedure for bringing other gurdwaras under its purview,
and appointment of and procedures for a Gurdwara Tribunal. Interestingly,
the definition clause does not define a "Sikh gurdwara,"
but a subsequent clause, Section 2.10, lays down a "notified
Sikh gurdwara" as any gurdw5r5 "declared by notification
of the local government under the provision of this Act to be a
Sikh gurdwara." Chapter I of this part ( Sections 3 to 11)
and the schedules referred to therein are the vital part of the
Act. Two categories of Sikh gurdwaras are envisaged, scheduled and
unscheduled. Important historical shrines where there could be no
doubt about their being Sikh gurdw5r5s indisputably owned by Sikhs
are listed in Schedule I of the Act. Originally 241 gurdw5r5s were
entered in this Schedule, out of which 65 remained in Pakistan after
the partition of the Punjab. However, 173 more gurdwaras within
the state of Patiala and East Punjab States Union were added to
it by the Amending Act of 1959. Schedule II contains the details
of institutions which were not "Sikh" gurdwar5s about
the control of which no dispute could be raised. In respect of gurdwaras
listed in these two schedules or the scheduled gurdwaras as they
are called, the State Government issued a notification in the official
Gazette, declaring them to be Sikh gurdwaras. The notification also
detailed the property claimed by each gurdwara.
In respect of the second category, i.e. gurdwaras other than the
Scheduled Gurdwaras listed in Schedule I, Section 7 of the Act prescribes
that fifty or more worshippers, being 21 years of age and residing
in the area of the police station in which a Gurdwara is situated,
may forward an application to the State Government, within the prescribed
time, giving details of the property claimed to be of such a gurdw5ra.
The State Government by notification publishes this application
and invites objections, if any, from either an hereditary office-holder
of that institution or at least twenty worshippers thereof to be
filed within ninety days of the date of the notification. If no
such petition is made, the Government issues a notification declaring
that gurdwara to be a Sikh gurdwara.
If however, an objection petition is put in, the case is referred
to the Sikh Gurdwaras Tribunal for adjudication. Provision for the
Sikh Gurdwaras Tribunal, a high-powered tribunal of three members
presided over by a sitting or a retired judge of the High Court,
is contained in Chapter III of Part I of the Act (Section 12-37).
An appeal against a finding of the Tribunal lies only to the High
Court and has to be heard by a bench of two judges. The criterion
for determining if the disputed institution is a Sikh Gurdwara or,
not is whether the gurdwar5 was being used for "public worship
by Sikhs" before and at the time of the presentation of the
petition and if, in addition, the Tribunal finds that the gurdwara
(i) by or in memory of any of the Ten Gurus of the Sikhs; or
(ii) owing to some tradition connected with one of the Ten Gurus;
(iii) owing to some incident connected with the life of any of the
Ten Gurus; or
(iv) in memory of a Sikh martyr, saint or historical person; or
(v) for use by Sikhs for the purpose of public worship by the Sikhs.
The solitary section 38 of Part II of the Act provides that if
advantage of the procedure of Part I was not taken, recourse could
be had to ordinary civil courts for obtaining a declaration that
a particular institution was a Sikh gurdw5ra. It being finally decided
that the gurdw5ra is a Sikh gurdw5ra, the State Government issues
the necessary notification and provisions of Part III of the Act
relating to management of gurdw5r5s then become applicable to it.
The Act also contains provision regarding settlement of disputes
related to gurdw5ra properties.
Part III of the Act provided for a central body for the management
of Sikh Gurdwaras called the Gurdwara Central Board, which at its
first meeting, adopted for itself the name of Shiromani Gurdwara
Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C. for short). The change of name was
accepted by government and published through a notification dated
17 January 1927. The Committee directly manages certain important
Sikh gurdwar5s and supervises the working of committees of other
gurdwaras, which are partly nominated by the Committee and partly
elected by the electors of the district in which the gurdw5ra is
situated. Under an amendment made to the Act in 1987, all gurdwaras
with an annual income of over 25,000 rupees are administered directly
by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The Shiromani Gurdwara
Parbandhak Committee consists of 140 members, including 15 belonging
to Scheduled Castes, elected by Sikhs, which term includes Sahajdhari
Sikhs, not fewer than 21 years of age, who get their names entered
in the electoral rolls by proffering declaration of being qualified
to be voters under the Act. The head priest of Sri Darbar Sahib,
and of the Takhts are ex-officio members.
The aforesaid members then co-opt fifteen members of whom not more
than five should be the residents of the Punjab. An elected or co-opted
member must be a Sikh, not less than 25 year of age. A person who
trims or shaves his beard or head, except in case of Sahajdhari
Sikhs, smokes or takes alcoholic drinks, is disqualified to be member
or voter. A Kesadhari member has to be an Amritdhari. Other ministers
and paid servants of the Sikh Gurdwaras or of the Board (now S.G.P.C.)
are ineligible for election as members of the Shiromani Gurdwara
Normal term of the S.G.P.C. is five years but it continues in office
till a new Committee is elected. Detailed provisions exist regarding
such matters as the disqualification of members, meetings of the
Committee, elections of the executive committee and other office-bearers
and their respective powers. For the settlement of disputes relating
to any act of the present or past members and the working of the
Committee and for settling any complaint of malfeasance or misfeasance,
a judicial commission of three members is appointed by the State
The Act contains detailed provisions regarding the finances of
the S.G.P.C., and its committees. The General Fund not exceeding
ten per cent of the total annual income is for the maintenance of
historical gurdwaras with insufficient income. The surplus, if any,
may be utilized for religious or charitable purposes or for social
or general welfare of the Panth. Religious Fund is for the propagation
of Sikh religion and connected matters. Research Fund to which a
minimum annual contribution of Rs 20,000 is to be made by the S.G.P.C.
is for carrying out research in Sikh history and for publication
of books. The Committee can also create and administer funds for
specific purposes such as industrial or educational advancement
of the community.
In the working of the Act, for over half a century, some defects
found were corrected by successive Amending Acts. The most exhaustive
revision was the one made by an amendment under Act XI of 1944.
The mover of this amendment was Giani Kartar Singh, then a member
of the Legislative Assembly of the Punjab. Some of the more important
provisions under it were : 12 seats in the S.G.P.C. were reserved
for Mazhabi and Ramdasia Sikhs ; tenure of the S.G.P.C. was increased
from 3 to 5 years; employees of the S.G.P.C. were also made liable
to legal action for misuse of official authority (formerly only
members of the committee were so liable); plural constituencies
for election to S.G.P.C. were abolished and replaced by single-member
constituencies ; S.G.P.C. only was entitled to change the percentage
of dasvandh or share in the income of gurdwaras under its control
; government was to have no authority to interfere ; the S.G.P.C.
was to be independent in apportioning the budget for religious preaching,
charities, education, industry, etc.
Notwithstanding the criticism of some of its provisions and defects
in its actual working, the Act is a landmark, specifically excluding
interference by the government and recognizing the right of the
Sikhs to manage their gurdwaras through their elected representatives.
Rituals and practices which were opposed to Sikh tenets and which
were in vogue before the Act was passed in 1925 have been set aside.
A demand for a comprehensive Act applicable to gurdwaras all over
India has persistently been voiced by the Sikhs. An All India Sikh
Gurdwaras Bill for the management of the Sikh. gurdwaras was drafted
after consultation with Sikh representatives all over India by an
Advisory Committee headed by Sardar Harbans Singh, retired Chief
Justice of the Punjab, and forwarded to the Central Government in