The Supreme Court on Monday said goodwill delegations,usually politicians and bureaucrats using government subsidy to perform Haj,should be scrapped to make way for pilgrims.
These goodwill delegations need to be scrapped altogether. They are no longer relevant. Even a team of nine to 10 persons is not required, a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai told Attorney General G E Vahanvati.
The government sends a goodwill delegation that interacts with the Haj pilgrims in order to understand their problems and convey the same to the government of Saudi Arabia. The delegation sends a report to the government for making Haj better in the ensuing year.
The apex court was responding to submissions made by Vahanvati and the Centres counsel,Haris Beeran,that these annual delegations to Haj serve to promote the countrys image abroad. The Bench,however,pointed out that goodwill delegations were launched in 1967 after the Indo-Pak war as the neighbouring state used the pilgrimage to launch anti-India rhetoric.
This necessity is no longer there. We will gradually reduce it to four or five and then scrap it altogether, the Bench said.
Vahanvati said that while the earlier delegations consisted of over 30 people,the teams have now been trimmed to nine.
In an affidavit,the government has told the SC that it is going to restrict the number of pilgrimages to the holy towns of Mecca and Medina through the Haj Committee of India to once in a lifetime as against the existing once in five years,in an effort to provide the benefit of subsidy to those applicants who have never performed the Haj.
The affidavit said that about 1.70 lakh pilgrims from India would perform Haj this year as per the quota received from the government of Saudi Arabia. While around 1.25 lakh of them would be travelling through the statutory Haj Committee,the remaining 45,000 would be using the services of private tour operators.
The governments response was filed in a pending special leave petition filed by the Centre challenging a Bombay High Court order that directed it to give allotment to certain private tour operators from the government quota in 2011. Though the Haj for 2011 is over,the government had said it wanted to give a response in the matter to clarify the broad Haj policy.