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Modi’s GST exemption for Punjab Sewa Bhoj – placated an ally or changed the idea of langar?

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The central government launched the Sewa Bhoj Yojana on 1 June, exempting charitable organisations that provide free food from paying GST on the raw materials used. The scheme was a result of the BJP ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), in Punjab raising the demand to exempt langar from GST.

ThePrint asks: Modi’s GST exemption for Punjab Sewa Bhoj – placated an ally or changed the idea of langar?


There is nothing wrong in asking for a tax refund

Sukhbir Badal

Sukhbir Singh Badal
President of SAD, and former deputy CM

Those who are objecting to the Sewa Bhoj scheme perhaps do not understand the significance of the move. Earlier, all gurdwaras and other institutions were paying value-added tax (VAT) to the state and central sales tax (CST) to the centre for the purchase of items used in langar. In Punjab, only Golden Temple and the Durgiana Mandir (both in Amritsar) were exempt from the VAT levied by the state, but they still had to pay the CST.

Now, the central scheme will ensure that the entire tax (GST) paid on these items is refunded. All institutions that give free food to 5,000 people every month are covered under the scheme. The step is a big relief for all gurdwaras across the country.

Non-religious institutions, like those outside the PGIMER and the AIIMS, who feed the poor are also covered under the scheme. The idea of ‘sewa bhoj’ is about serving humanity. We cannot say that it should be called langar, and only then we will accept it. We are grateful to the centre that they have taken this step. An exemption from central tax has never been given in the past.

Also, there should be no objection to asking for a tax refund. It is the money of the sangat, which we are asking to be returned. What is wrong in it? It cannot be construed as a financial assistance.


Scheme is valid for only 2 years, what happens after that?

Kiranjot Kaur
Senior member, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee

The concept of langar does not translate into “free food”. It is the practical manifestation of the concept of equality as taught by the Sikh gurus, and reinforces the idea of sewa or service. The process of gathering raw materials, cooking and serving food to everyone without prejudice, partaking of food and cleaning utensils emanates from a community effort.

The money used in langar is contributed by the sangat. Government assistance is not part of it. If grants or assistance had to be taken then the third Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das ji, would have accepted the offer made by Emperor Akbar that a jagir can help pay for the langar. But the offer was turned down. No assistance was ever taken from Maharaja Ranjit Singh although he majorly contributed to the gold plating of the Golden Temple.

Taking any form of assistance from a government that is run on the tax paid by common man compromises the concept and ethos of langar. The GST waiver scheme of the government is not really returning or refunding the tax that the gurdwaras have paid. The tax is collected by the ministry of finance, and if it is a refund, it should be returned by the same ministry. But in this case, it is not so. The gurdwaras will have to get registered under the ministry of culture for refund in shape of “financial assistance” under the Sewa Bhoj scheme, which is unacceptable. According to the information made available to the SGPC, the scheme is valid only for two years. What will happen after that?

Sewa bhoj stands for serving humanity, can’t say it should only be called langar


Langar is most secular form of sewa. Why object to ‘Sewa Bhoj’?

Kamal Sharma
Former BJP president, Punjab

The entire debate on what the GST waiver on langar purchases should have been named is unnecessary. It is a result of certain vested interests who do not wish that such a provision be offered. The concessions offered as part of the Sewa Bhoj Yojana are not for a single community. These are for every community, organisation and religious body offering free food.

There is no doubt that langar is a unique tradition and has been in existence for centuries. What is wrong if the sewa bhoj includes bhandaras too? There should be no objection to the word ‘sewa’. The ethos of sewa is the highest in Sikhism, and langar is the most popular and secular form of sewa.

During langar you don’t see the religion of the person who is eating food. So, why do you object to langar being called sewa bhoj? The centre took some time in bringing out the scheme, but now it has been done in a manner that it covers every form of langar.

It is an umbrella scheme and will also cover organisations, which do not have religion as the basis for providing free food to the needy.


Don’t belittle langar by calling it ‘Sewa Bhoj’

Gurpreet Singh
Spokesperson, Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha

The GST waiver on langar purchases is a falsehood being spread by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The SAD is, in fact, on a thanksgiving spree in Delhi. It is trying to dupe the Sikh people once again.

The GST has not been waived and will continue to be levied on the items used for langar. Instead, the Guru’s langar has now been officially converted to the Sewa Bhoj Yojana, a scheme under which Sikhs will have to register to get a paltry sum as an aid from the government.

The purpose of langar is to break caste barriers and to establish equality and dignity in society. We cannot belittle it by calling it ‘sewa bhoj’. Guru Nanak had refused any aid from Akbar, who had offered a land grant to hold langars.

In a statement with authors Gurtej Singh, Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, Jaspal Singh Sidhu and veteran journalist Sukhdev Singh, I have said that the institution of langar is eternal whereas the Sewa Bhoj Yojana appears to be a temporary pilot project with paltry financial provisions that are not adequate even for the ‘kanwariyas’, for whom it seems to have been designed. Sikhs must condemn this tax as ‘Hindutva jizyah’ much like the Mughal jizyah, which was not levied on the Sikhs even by the Mughals.


‘Sewa bhoj’ scheme is a refund of taxes, not an exemption

Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa 
Cabinet minister and Congress MLA

In the garb of exempting GST from langar items, the government of India has done two highly obnoxious things.

First, it has called it the Sewa Bhoj Yojana. There is no concept of ‘sewa bhoj’ in Sikhism. It is langar, and that is how it is referred to across the world. By agreeing to become a part of a scheme called ‘sewa bhoj’, the Akalis have become party to the implementation of the RSS agenda on Sikh institutions.

Second, one needs to understand that langar in Sikhism does not mean ‘free food’ only; it is a philosophy, a larger concept. It is run by the sangat from their own pockets, and not on khairaat from anyone. The ‘sewa bhoj’ scheme entails the SGPC first paying the tax, and then asking for a refund. That amounts to begging and no langar will ever or should ever run like that.

If the government of India really wanted to contribute towards langar, it should have withdrawn the GST from the items used in langar. That is what the demand was. Instead, what the government has given is a refund on what the SGPC first pays them. If the government insists on collecting taxes on langar items, then let it be made clear that there is enough sense of pride among Sikhs and, with the grace of vaaheguru, enough money to pay the tax. The SGPC should categorically reject this ‘sewa bhoj’ scheme – it is a refund of taxes, not an exemption.


We should have the grace to appreciate a positive gesture

Harpal Singh Jala 
Senior Vice President, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)

The SGPC has welcomed the refund of GST on langar items, and rightly so. Langar is a centuries-old institution of the Sikhs, and gurdwaras across the world are known for their devotion and sense of service towards feeding the poor. Anyone who understands the concept of langar is amazed how Sikhs manage to cook and distribute free food. In the Golden Temple alone, almost one lakh people partake of langar daily. The number is double on Sundays and festivals.

The GST bill of the Golden temple is more than Rs 2 crore. If we are able to save this amount of money, this can be spent on other services offered by the SGPC. We are educating needy children and also have a fund for cancer patients. The SGPC also provides food to the affected during natural calamities. We also offered our services during the Kashmir floods and the Nepal earthquake.

Every penny that is saved is used for the right purpose. If the government of India has agreed to refund the tax we have paid, it should be welcomed. The fact that it has to be refunded does not mean that we are asking for financial help for langar. It is the sangat’s money that is being returned to us. Applying for GST refund on a website is a mere technicality. It is easy to criticise everything, but we should have the grace to appreciate a positive gesture.


Compiled by Chitleen K. Sethi, Associate Editor at ThePrint. 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Samuhik bhoj is indian culture. In jagannaath temple puri lakhs of people take prasad everyday since more than thousand years. Why sikhs are feeling they are different from Hindus. Sikhs were part of this Hindu culture. They were created as marshal entity to protect .
    The people should accept the fact…there lies glory of sikhism.Any non sikh hindu visits Gurudwara with pride and joy to offer obeisance to Guru Nanak ji. Holy Gurugranth sahb are sacredly kept and read in many temples and hindu households. Lets not destroy basic ethos of our great Gurus and Saints .

  2. So after reading this ,I a,average brain can just make out these facts and could someone enlighten me?
    So now we are not living in Akbar badshah’s times when he gave Amritsar to Guru Amar Das ji’s daughter to help fund the Guru ka langar.
    Guruji humbly told him that this was not necessary because the hungry would always be fed. And so the Guru ka langar has done seva to mankind for centuries without hindrance until the great and glorious reign of the Hindus came to rule Delhi.

    , I noticed that the idea of Hindutva being imposed on guru ka langar which has been in existence for 450 years by a tyrannical administration asking for its jaziya on a great and glorious traditional service towards humanity only goes to show-
    For 450 years the guru ka langar has fed millions in the name of God and mankind.
    In the acche din of the 21st century bukkhads want their damdi out of every rupaiyya, because they have a hunger which can never be appeased..
    Instead of exempting a jaziya which Akbar did in his mussalman rajya a bhoj yojana tax was implemented in a Hindutva rajya. And those who don’t understand the Longterm implications that an 18 % burden has been placed on a selfless seva by the hindu rulers tyrannising people of another religion all in the name of greed,well, wake up and smell the coffee.
    Instead of a finance ministry managing a tax a culture ministry is managing a Yojana. That means that the administration of the Golden temple has to enroll itself as a cultural institution and not a religious institution to get its tax Refunded? The tax has to be paid first.Thensome Baboo in the cultural department will talk about a refund. By then this administration will have lost the election.Thecultural ministry cannot Refund finances given to the finance ministry. So all those waiting for a 4. Crore refund it is yo (this way) Jana (going going gone.)
    Are we living in medieval times?And Sikhs are taking this tyranny lying down? This is Hindostaan not Hindu Stan.
    Does Narendra Modi want civil war on matters of religion? Dilli sarkar should not forget that they will be kicked out next year but the Guru ka langar and not modi ka sevabhoj yo jana will remain forever.
    Abolish jaziya ghasita sevabhoj Yojanas immediately,Mr Modi these HiFi sanskritised Hindu terms have no place in a country with its own religious traditional culture.
    Nobody can implement a political administration decision on a religious tradition in Hindostaan, whatever you may think. Implement your pratham mahiyam pocketam sevam bhojanam yojanams on your own hindu institutions but don’t count on Sikh, Christian, Buddhist Jain Mussalman places of worship to come under the same category.

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