SGPC should reject ‘financial assistance’ in lieu of GST exemption on Langar

Chandigarh, June 2: The unique Sikh institution of Langar is not supposed to be managed with ‘financial assistance’  from the government but from the offerings from devotees as it is not just a free kitchen to which it has been reduced to by the Modi government by clubbing it with institutions  from other religions ‘distributing free food’. Langar symbolises the basic Sikh doctrine of  classless and casteless socio-economic order. This system was counter to the tight caste and class grip of Hindu religion at that time. The Sikh institution of Langar was started by Guru Nanak to privide primacy to dignity of man as a human being.

The items purchased by the Sikh institutions for Langar were earlier exempted from taxes like VAT but the same have been brought under the GST regime. The biggest budget for Langar is that of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee at the Golden Temple complex.

After months of the issue having been taken up by the Akali Dal and the SGPC leadership, the Modi government yesterday issued a notification under the scheme of ‘Financial Assistance under Seva Bhoj Yojna’   with effect from 2018-19 to continue in 2019-20 for which an amount of Rs 325 crore has been earmarked.  The scheme is for two years.

It states: “Under the Scheme, CGST and Central Government share of IGST paid on purchase of specific items by charitable religious institutions for distributing free food shall be reimbursed as financial assistance by the Government of India”.

On the surface of it, there seems to be nothing wrong with it. However, that is not so. This institution has a history that is different.

Emperor Akbar visited Third Sikh Master, Guru Amar Das, at Goindwal. The Guru advised him to first partake Langar. The issue was that of Sangat and Pangat that is translated into equality. Akbar was highly impressed.

He offered  grant of land to run this institution. Guru Amar Das politely refused the offer and told him that this institution was run on offerings, not by grants. Land for it was later purchased for this purpose but from the offerings.

It was during the reign of  Maharaja Ranjit Singh that big chunks of land were allotted to historical gurdwaras. This is justified by the Sikh ideologues on the logic that the Maharaja Ranjit Singh regime was known as Sarkar-e-Khalsa and he accepted the supremacy of  Akal Takht when summoned by its Jathedar Akali Phoola Singh who had held him guilty of religious misconduct.

As he accepted supremacy of Akal Takht, he was pardoned. However,  another decision associated it related to the supply chain for the Golden Temple Langar. The Akal Takht Jathedar announced that henceforth,  this supply from the Ranjit Singh’s  kitchen would not be accepted. This institution has been managed all along with offerings from devotees.

Apart from equality, it is the concept of self-less service (seva) that is part of this institution, rather all Sikh institutions. No government grant can be accepted for  the repair of any building in the Golden Temple complex.

It was Guru Hargobind, the Sixth Guru, who created Akal Takht.  He entrusted its construction to two of his  closest associates Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas  and none else was allowed to join.

It was for this reason that the building reconstructed by the government after Operation Bluestar was razed to the ground subsequently and constructed according to the Sikh traditions with donations  from and Kar Seva by the devotees.

The issue is not that of SGPC money or for that matter by other Sikh institutions paid to the government in the form of GST being reimbursed. The GST has taxed the institution that is not just free kitchen but symbol of basic Sikh doctrine. The government should have exempted it from GST.

The Akali leaders have gone all out to hail the Modi government. These leaders should care to go through Sikh history before damaging this institution.

The people in the SGPC who understand the nuances of Sikh doctrine admit in private that the issue was exemption, not some type of financial assistance in the form of reimbursement.

Do the SGPC and other Sikh institutions need this dole of a few crores to run its unique institution? This amount is peanuts for the SGPC and DSGMC.

Jagtar Singh


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