The Supreme Court today directed the government to phase out Haj subsidy within 10 years,saying that this amount can be more profitably used for social and educational development of the Muslim community.
A bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai quoted Quran to justify doing away with the subsidy,which was around Rs 685 crore in 2011,adding that many Muslims would not be very comfortable to know that their Haj is funded to a large extent by the government.
We are also not oblivious to the fact that in many other purely religious events there is direct and indirect deployment of state funds and state resources. Nevertheless,we are of the view that Haj subsidy is something that is best done away with, the bench said.
The Centre at present subsidises every Haji by around Rs 38,000 through airfare. Last year,about 1.25 lakh pilgrims went for Haj.
The government welcomed the Supreme Court order,with Law Minister Salman Khurshid saying they had been working on the issue in the same direction over the years.
The issue of Haj subsidy has been already under consideration for the past four years and discussions had taken place for rollback of Haj subsidy, Khurshid told reporters outside Parliament House.
He said the government was also working towards ensuring that there was no burden on the pilgrims and the financial arrengements with the airlines were more viable.
Muslim MPs too welcomed the order,while seeking an arrangement that would directly benefit the pilgrims and improve standards of the minority community.
The Haj subsidy of Rs 600 crore is given to Air India and not pilgrims… Under this garb of subsidy,it (money) is going to Air India which is a sick airline, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said.
While directing the Centre to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it in 10 years,the Supreme Court said: This court has no claim to speak on behalf of all the Muslims of the country and it will be presumptuous for us to try to tell the Muslims what is for them a good or bad religious practice… Nevertheless,we have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Haj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage and if all the facts are made known,a good many of the pilgrims would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Haj is funded to a substantial extent by the government.
The bench also directed that the practice of sending governments representatives with the Haj pilgrims must be stopped,questioning the utility of sending such a large,unwieldy,amorphous and randomly selected delegation. Instead of the Goodwill Haj Delegation,the Centre can send a leader and a deputy leader in the course of the Haj with a message of goodwill to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,the court said.
The bench pointed out that the government had started sending the Goodwill Delegation to counter anti-India propaganda,which was no longer needed. It is no secret that after the 1965 war,Pakistan tried to use even the Haj pilgrimage for anti-India propaganda and the purpose of sending the Goodwill Delegation was to meet the anti-India propaganda. However,even Pakistan has now stopped sending any official Goodwill Haj Delegation.
The court also noted that there was no reasonable basis for nomination to the Goodwill Delegation of around 27 people,which evidently works on patronage and granting of favours.
The bench also asked the government to furnish details on how its quota is allocated to applicants on recommendation by dignitaries and eminent persons,saying it has some initial reservations on this.
We direct the Haj Committee of India to file a detailed affidavit giving full details of the process of selection of pilgrims from the applications made to the State Haj Committees. The affidavit should also give details of the charges realised from the pilgrims and the facilities made available to them, the bench said.