In Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar v Som Nath Dass[1], a two judge Bench held the Guru Granth Sahib to be a juristic person.

In Shiromani Gurdwara, 56 persons moved a petition under Section 7(1) of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925 for a declaration that certain disputed property was a Sikh Gurdwara. Upon the issuance of a notification to this effect, objections were raised that the disputed property was a dharamshala and dera.

The Tribunal under the Act dismissed this objection on the ground that the petitioners therein lacked locus. In the meantime, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee claimed that the disputed property was a Sikh Gurdwara and that the “Guru Granth Sahib” was the “only object of worship and it was the sole owner of the gurdwara property”. The Sikh Gurdwara Tribunal decreed in favour of the SGPC and held that the disputed property “belonged to SGPC”.

On the basis of a farman-e-shahi issued in 1921, the Revenue Officer had ordered mutation in the name of the “Guru Granth Sahib Barajman Dharamshala Deh”. Thus, the ownership column of the land continued in this name till objections were filed to the declaration of the land as a Sikh Gurdwara.

In the appeals before the High Court from the findings of the Tribunal, a contention was raised that the entry in the revenue records in the name of the Guru Granth Sahib was void as it is not a juristic person.

The High Court held that the Guru Granth Sahib is not a juristic person and consequently, the mutation in the name of the Guru Granth Sahib was liable to be set aside. It was in this context that Supreme Court was called to adjudicate whether the Guru Granth Sahib is a juristic person, capable of owning the disputed property in its own name.

Tracing the evolution of the concept of juristic person, Justice AP Misra noted that recognition in law of a juristic person is to sub-serve the needs of the law and society. The Court held:

“19…When the donor endows for an idol or for a mosque or for any institution, it necessitates the creation of a juristic person.

21…There may be an endowment for a pious or religious purpose. It may be for an idol, mosque, church, etc. Such endowed property has to be used for that purpose. The installation and adoration of an idol or any image by a Hindu denoting any god is merely a mode through which his faith and belief is satisfied. This has led to the recognition of an idol as a juristic person.

27. The aforesaid conspectus visualizes how juristic persons was coined to subserve to the needs of the society…Different religions of the world have different nuclei and different institutionalized places for adoration, with varying conceptual beliefs and faith but all with the same end.”

Justice Misra further noted:

“29…it is not necessary for Guru Granth Sahib to be declared as a juristic person that it should be equated with an idol. When belief and faith of two different religions are different, there is no question of equating one with the other. If “Guru Granth Sahib” by itself could stand the test of its being declared as such, it can be declared to be so”

31. Now returning to the question, whether Guru Granth Sahib could be a juristic person or not, or whether it could be placed on the same pedestal, we may fist have a glance as the Sikh religion…In the Sikh religion, the Guru is revered as the highest reverential person…

33. The last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, expressed in no uncertain terms that henceforth there would not be any living Guru. The Guru Granth Sahib would be the vibrating Guru. He declared that “henceforth it would be your Guru from which you will get all your guidance and answer”. It is with this faith that it is worshipped like a living Guru. It is with this faith and conviction, when it is installed in any gurdwara it becomes a sacred place of worship.

Sacredness of the gurdwara is only because of placement of Guru Granth Sahib in it. This reverential recognition of Guru Granth Sahib also opens the hearts of its followers to pour their money and wealth for it. It is not that it needs it, but when it is installed, it grows for its followers, who through their obeisance to it, sanctify themselves and also for running the langer which is an inherent part of the gurdwara.

34. … It cannot be equated with an ―idol‖ as idol worship is contrary to Sikhism. As a concept or a visionary for obeisance, the two religions are different. Yes, for its legal recognition as a juristic person, the followers of both the religions give them respectively the same reverential value….

42…for all the reason, we do not find any strength in the reasoning of the High Court in recording a finding that the Guru Granth Sahib‖ is not a juristic person. The said finding is not sustainable both on fact and law.”

The view of the learned judge was that the creation of a juristic person was to ensure the legal protection of the religious beliefs of the faith:

“28. Faith and belief cannot be judged through any judicial scrutiny. It is a fact accomplished and accepted by its followers. This faith necessitated the creation of a unit to be recognised as a juristic person. All this shows that a juristic person is not roped in any defined circle. With the changing thought, changing needs of the society, fresh juristic personalities were created from time to time.”

The judgment in Shiromani Gurdwara affirms that there is an underlying purpose which is at the heart of conferring legal personality on objects. Different religions are assessed in accordance with their own faith and belief. The absence of idol worship in Sikhism necessitated the conferral of juristic personality on the Guru Granth Sahib which is, according to the tenets of Sikhism, the Guru. Accordingly, it was then held that the disputed property vested in the Guru GranthSahib.

[1] (2000) 4 SCC 146