Delhi High Court directs Centre to file reply
Haj subsidy "a bid to get Muslim votes"Even some Islamic countries do not grant the subsidy
NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Monday issued notice to the Union Government on a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking directions to the Government to provide pilgrimage subsidy to the followers of all religions on the lines of the Haj subsidy to Muslims.
A Division Bench comprising Justices Swatanter Kumar and G.S. Cistani directed the Government to reply to the petition by January 4, 2007.
"Creates ill will"
Petitioner Ashwani Gupta through his counsel Sugriv Dubey submitted that the subsidy to Haj pilgrims had created ill will among the followers of other faiths. Further, Articles 14, 15 and 17 of the Constitution restricted the State from giving benefits to one particular religion and ignoring the others, the petitioner submitted. Each year the Centre gave a subsidy of about Rs. 300 crore to Haj pilgrims and different State governments had built air-conditioned rest houses for them, he said.
The petitioner urged the court to direct the Centre to grant subsidy also to Hindus for pilgrimage to Amarnath and Mansarovar; Sikhs for pilgrimage to Nankana Saheb; Buddhists to offer prayers at Sarnath; Christians for their journey to Rome and to the followers of Jainism to visit their shrines.
The petitioner further submitted that providing subsidy to Muslims for their travel to Mecca was "politically motivated" as it was aimed at appeasing the community by the powers that be to get their votes.
Even several Islamic countries did not grant subsidy to Haj pilgrims, he added.
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board had also described the Haj subsidy as a sop to gain political mileage, the petitioner submitted.
The State was supposed to make only administrative arrangements to ensure smooth celebration of religious festivals, Mr. Dubey stated.
There are independent bodies in Malaysia that manage Haj pilgrimage and generate money to meet the expenses by investing the money of the pilgrims in fixed deposit schemes, the petitioner said.