The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the government'spolicy of giving subsidies to Haj pilgrims and directed that it beprogressively "eliminated" within a period of 10 years. "We hold that this policy is best done away with," abench of justices Altamas Kabir and Ranjana Prakash Desai held. The bench also directed the government to reduce to two the numberof its representatives in the Prime Minister's goodwilldelegation. It said it will look into the functioning of Haj Committee of Indiaand it process for selecting people for Haj pilgrimage. |
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the Centrechallenging a Bombay High Court judgement which had directed theMinistry of External Affairs to allow certain private operators tohandle 800 of the 11,000 pilgrims earmarked under the VIP quotasubsidised by the government. The bench while hearing the plea of the Centre had expanded thepurview of the plea and decided to look into the legality of thegovernment's policy on granting subsidies to Haj pilgrims. During the hearing in the case, the Centre had defended the policyof giving subsidies to the Haj pilgrims and had said it had framedguidelines so that people get subsidies only once in theirlifetime. In an affidavit, the Centre had told the court that it has decidedto restrict Haj pilgrimage at government subsidy to Muslims only asa "once in a lifetime" affair as against the existingpolicy of "once in five years".
It had said the new guidelines have been framed to ensure thatpriority is given to those applicants who have never performed Haj. The government, however, had refrained from disclosing the amountof subsidy being incurred by it for 2012, saying, . "The exact figure in respect of the travel subsidy to thepilgrims going through Haj Committee of India for 2012 will beknown after the Hajis completed their Haj journey and return toIndia." The apex court had earlier expressed its dismay at the practice ofsending official delegations to accompany the pilgrims and hadasked the Centre to furnish entire details regarding Haj subsidy,as also about the criteria adopted. "These goodwill delegations need to be scrapped altogether.They are no longer relevant. Even a team of 9 to 10 persons is notrequired," the bench had observed.
The bench had also pulled up the Centre's practice of"politicising" Haj by permitting official delegationsto accompany the pilgrims, for which the government offers hugesubsidy, saying, "It's a bad religious practice.".
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