PHC strikes down auction of ancient gurdwara’s portion in Peshawar

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PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court has struck down the auction of a portion of the ancient Bhai Beba Singh gurdwara in Peshawar city by the Evacuee Trust Property Board. A bench consisting of Justice Roohul Amin Khan Chamkani and Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah declared the auction illegal by accepting the petition jointly filed by a member of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sahib Singh and five members of the committee of the Gurdwara Bhai Beba Singh situated in Chaka Gali area of Peshawar.

The ancient Gurdwara Bhai Beba Singh in Peshawar

The petitioner claimed that the deputy administrator of the ETPB, Peshawar, had held the so-called auction of a portion of the Gurdwara Bhai Beba Singh on July 18, 2016, and issued a letter to the local police on Nov 20, 2018, asking them to ensure the handing over of the possession of that portion to the allottee.

The petitioners said when the police officials came to the gurdwara for possession, they realised that the said partition was inside the boundary wall of the gurdwara and therefore, it was part of the premises. They requested the court to declare that auction and the subsequent letter written to the police illegal and without lawful authority.

The respondents in the petition were the federal government through the secretary of the religious affairs ministry, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government through the chief secretary, Evacuee Trust Property Board through its chairman, deputy secretary of the ETPB, Lahore, deputy administrator of the ETPB, Peshawar, and the station house officer of the Hashtnagri police station.

In Dec 2018, a bench had issued a stay order and asked the authorities not to drive members of the Sikh community out of that portion until further orders.

Zahidullah Zahid and Taimur Khan, lawyers for the petitioners, contended that members of the Sikh community had been performing their religious obligations at the Gurdwara BahiBeba Singh even before the Partition.

They said the gurdwara was also a historical site for Sikhs throughout the world. The counsel said on Mar 22, 2017, members of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) formally requested the EPTB chairman for the construction of a dinning hall over an open space within the boundary wall of the gurdwara.

They added that the request was accepted by the chairman and an official letter was issued by the relevant deputy secretary (shrines) to the administrator of the ETP, Rawalpindi, on Mar 24, 2017, for immediate action.

The counsel, however, claimed that to the utter surprise of their clients, the SHO of the relevant police station approached the gurdwara to dispossess members of the Sikh community. They added that when the SHO was shown that portion on the premises of the gurdwara, he left.

The lawyers said their clients were informed by the SHO that an auction had taken place in 2016 through which that open space was leased out to a man, while a letter was issued to the SHO on Nov 20, 2018, for dispossessing members of the Sikh community from that portion.

They added that the gurdwara portion in question was auctioned and leased out for a period of 30 years on the nominal payment of Rs1.4 million. The counsel claimed that the authorities issued advertisements for auction to small newspapers in a bid to favour the person of choice.