The country’s apex court has directed the government to phase out subsidy paid to Muslims to make a Haj visit in a decade and use the amount for social and educational development of the community. Currently, the government foots Rs. 38,000 per person and last year the amount was at Rs 685 crore for about 1.25 lakh pilgrims.
A Supreme Court bench consisting of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said, “We are also not oblivious of the fact that in many other purely religious events there are 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,” besdies citing Quran to justify their ruling.
“We, therefore, direct the Central Government to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it within a period of 10 years from today. The subsidy money may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development,” the bench noted in its ruling.
“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 said in its ruling.
Reacting to the judgement, many Muslim clerics and leaders on Tuesday welcomed the ruling. “We welcome this ruling. If people from other religions don’t get subsidies for pilgrimages, why should we… It should not take ten years for the ban on subsidy to come into effect but it should be done away with within a year,” said Delhi’s Sahi Imam.
They have cited irregularities in the subsidy and blamed corruption. Bukhari said the present subsidy scheme merely helps Air India which is overcharging as it holds monopoly on the pilgrimage tickets to the tune of Rs 23,000 per ticket. Minus subsidy, this can be given to open bidding to the airlines, he suggested.
“A Haj is undertaken only if you have the money, are in good health and have performed all your duties towards your family. Going on a Haj with money you borrowed from someone is absolutely prohibited,” said another cleric Mukarram Ahmed.