Explained: The mystery of missing articles of Sikh Reference Library

Kamaldeep Singh Brar
The Sikh Reference Library

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) had recently decided to constitute a high-level committee to probe allegations that some books, religious texts and manuscripts allegedly seized from the Sikh Reference Library (SRL) by the army during Operation Blue Star in 1984 and returned in several instalments, were smuggled by none other than SGPC officials.

SGPC secretary Roop Singh had also claimed that while the Army had written to SGPC that it had returned all articles seized in 1984 to police and SGPC, it was still expecting return of at least 307 hand-written Birs of Guru Granth Sahib and 11,107 books .

History of the SRL

Maharaja Ranjit Singh s granddaughter Bamba had played a leading role in the foundation of the Sikh History Society at Khalsa College, Amritsar, on February 10, 1945. This society came under SGPC on April 26, 1946. On February 8, 1947, the SRL was set up in a hall of the Guru Ram Das inn to meet the purpose of the Sikh History Society. Later, it was shifted into the premises of the Golden Temple. According to a document published by the Sikh History Society in 1950, there were 2,335 manuscripts and books in Punjabi, 10 in Assamese, 7 in Bengali and 2 in Sindhi. There was one book in French as well. Later on, around 400 books in English were added to the library the same year.

As per a statement of then in-charge of the Sikh History Research Board, Devinder Singh Duggal, there were 2,500 manuscripts (including hand-written Birs of Guru Granth Sahib). The library stock had touched the 20,000 mark before Operation Blue Star.

Operation Blue Star

A research paper published by by Dr. Sukhdev Singh Jhand and Dr. Santokh Singh Shaharyar, Sr. Assistant Librarians at Bhai Gurdas Library, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, reads, The Army version says that the library caught fire during the exchange of fire with militants who had taken shelter in premises of the Golden Temple…

Another version says that the library was damaged only partially during the Operation, and most of the reading material was carried away later, by the Army, in gunny bags and steel trunks, to a safer place. Ranjit Singh Nanda, former inspector of the Punjab Police, who remained on deputation with the CBI for a couple of years, has confirmed the claims of SGPC that the material was lying with the CBI. He says he had enough proof to substantiate his claim that the Army had taken away invaluable material from the Library and handed it over to the CBI, it adds.

According to an estimate, more than 20,000 books of the value of Rs 20 lakh, 2,500 hand-written volumes of holy Sikh scriptures, about 500 hand-written rare books/documents relating to Sikh tenets and traditions and 200 copies (typed) of rare books/documents were either burnt or taken out from the library by the Indian Army, it further says.

What the Union government says on the library

In 1998, then Union minister of defence George Fernandes had informed the then SGPC president and Rajya Sabha Member late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, while replying to a standard question, on December 2, 1998, that, The army had removed certain items from the premises of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, in 1984. These included passports, office files/documents, booklets, pass books, identity cards, cheque books, registers, shastras (traditional weapons), gold and golden ornaments, silver and silver ornaments, precious stones, semi-precious stones, pearls, currency notes, coins, FDRs and office stationary besides certain items of non-historical value. Of these, the army had handed over some items like passports, office files/documents, booklets, pass books, identity cards, cheque books, diaries, registers to the Central Bureau of Investigation in July 1984 itself. The CBI in turn returned these documents to authorised representatives of SGPC in October 1989. A few documents which were objectionable and thus destroyed, certain others were required in connection with the trial (sic).

His statement further said: Some other items of historical value, mostly shastras (traditional weapons), were handed over by Army to the curator, Museum, Punjab Government while the valuables such as gold and golden ornaments, silver and silver ornaments, precious stones, semi-precious stones, pearls, govt. currency notes worth Rs. 30, 93, 926, coins and FDRs were handed over to the officiating treasury officer, Amritsar on June 30, 1984, against proper receipt.

The Army is now not holding and other documents of historical noser (sic), it added.

RTI replies

Gurvinder Singh Chadda, a native of Uttaranchal, has been trying to get information about some of the articles taken away from the library in 1984 using the Right to Information Act.

Replying to one such RTI by Chadda on August 3, 2018, the ministry of home affairs said, Around 4,000 documents/books/files/gold/gold ornaments, silver/silver ornaments, precious stone currency were recovered by a central agency during Operation Blue Star in 1984. Articles and documents handed over either to SGPC or to the Government of Punjab (sic).

Chadda had asked the Punjab government through RTI whether it is in possession of any article. Punjab government is making one excuse after another to give a proper reply to my RTI, Chadda said. In a recent reply to a letter from SGPC, the Union government said that articles removed from the Golden Temple in 1984 were returned to Punjab police and SGPC .

The Union government hasn t made any mention of burning of library records in its replies. In an RTI reply to the Sikh Forum in 2018, it said that the government had returned 53 books related to SRL to SGPC and there has been no more possession of book or manuscripts from Library either with Army or CBI.

SGPC s claims

Since 1984, the SGPC says it has written a total of 85 letters to the Union government for the return of articles removed from the Golden Temple.

Last week SGPC secretary Roop Singh had said that the army had returned 205 handwritten Birs of Guru Granth Sahib, 807 books, one hand-written edict of Guru Gobind Singh and old copies of newspapers dating to the First World War, in several installments. He claimed there were a total of 512 hand-written Birs, 12,613 rare books and newspapers in the library before Operation Blue Star.

It was first time last week that SGPC had opened up on what had been returned by Army in the last 35 years after it was in the eye of a storm when counter allegations were raised by former director of SRL Anurag Singh that the Union government had returned a chunk of articles taken away from the library in 1984. He further alleged that many valuable manuscripts were sold in the black market by some SGPC officials.

SGPC has been accused of not maintaining records related to the missing articles that led Sikh bodies to point fingers at it.
Suspense over books
The Union government had made it clear in 1998 that it was not in possession of any article recovered from the Golden Temple, but a revolver was returned to the SGPC in 2004.
Twenty years after Operation Blue Star, a trunk containing a revolver, some old currency, documents and a plastic mug was handed over to SGPC by the CBI in 2004. The return of the revolver surprised many, and that these articles were kept at Amritsar DC s office, even more so.
Former SGPC secretary Dilmegh Singh said, In 2004, when I was SGPC secretary, that a meeting was called by the Union government to give some funds for the Galliara project around Golden Temple. We had raised this issue of articles taken away in 1984 in that meeting and in response, the Union government had sent a CBI official to Amritsar. That official went to the Amritsar DC s office and came back with the trunk…Nothing happened after that. I don t know if it was all that the Amritsar DC s office had.
Dilmegh Singh is also part of the high-powered committee formed by SGPC to probe allegations levelled by Anurag Singh.
Another petition
One Satnam Singh Khandha had filed a petition in Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2003, in which the Union government, Punjab government, CBI, secretary of a ministry of defence and SGPC were made respondents. It asked the court to make respondents clear the air over alleged missing articles.
In a final order passed on April 29, 2004, the court had said, …it appears that many of the articles were handed over in June 1984 to two officials of a treasury office Amritsar and to CBI in July 1985. We also clarify that if any article is a subject matter of the court as stated by CBI in its reply, petitioner may approach particular court to passing an appropriate order in that regards…if the Government of India has no objection over the release of any other property claimed by the petitioner to be returned, then it will pass an objective order expeditiously.
Satnam said, I approached SGPC to carry forward the case. Then SGPC president appreciated my efforts and he offered me a job in SGPC. I was recruited in SGPC but I didn t stay back and keep reminding the secretaries and presidents time and again to take action. However, SGPC show no interest in carrying forward the legal fight to get back articles.
The Union government has repeatedly told SGPC that some articles were sent to the Punjab government museum. There has been no item on display at our museum related to Operation Blue Star. I will have to check if there is anything in store, museum director M S Jaggi said.