The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to gradually reduce the amount of subsidies being given to Haj pilgrims so that within 10 years it is eliminated, and the money is used for the “uplift of the community in education and other indices of social development.”
“We have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee 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,” said a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai, before quoting a passage from the Holy Koran.
The court observed that the Haj subsidies had been rising every year, with the increase in air fare and pilgrims.
“We are of the view that Haj subsidy is something that is best done away with,” the Bench said.
The Bench agreed that the subsidy was constitutionally valid but it was very firm that there was no justification for charging the pilgrims a much lower price than even the normal air fares usually charged for a return ticket to Jeddah.
The court also ordered an end to the practice of sending a goodwill Haj delegation.
Leaders hail verdict
There was near-unanimity among the leaders of the political class in welcoming the verdict, with a few even demanding immediate scrapping of the subsidy and suggesting use of the money for the educational needs of Muslims.
“Why wait for 10 years to scrap it. It should be done away with this year itself, because it does not benefit the pilgrims. In the name of giving subsidy, the government has been fooling people till now, for, it has been investing the money in Air India,” said Asaduddin Owaisi of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), an ally of the UPA.
Senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “The BJP welcomes the verdict but we are of the opinion that the government should continue to help out the pilgrims with basic services.”
There was no need to club the educational needs of Muslims with the Haj subsidy. “The government should try to implement the schemes for providing scholarship to Muslim girls, which are not getting properly implemented in the first place.”
Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said giving subsidy to any community was a policy decision and the Central government needed to explain its position.
“There have been several court verdicts against the policy decisions of the government and it is for the government to explain,” Mr. Raja said.
Referring to Law Minister Salman Khurshid's reaction that the government was considering the Haj subsidy and discussions had taken place for its rollback, Mr. Raja said this was a “vague” stand.
Zafarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella organisation of several Muslim groups, said: “The so-called Haj subsidy is of no use to the pilgrims. We never asked for it.”