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UP court stays subsidy to Haj pilgrims
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | August 26, 2006 15:03 IST
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on Friday ordered a blanket ban on the subsidy given by the central and state governments to Haj pilgrims.
The order came on a petition moved 11 years ago by advocate Hari Shankar Jain on behalf of Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist B N Shukla, who also owns a chain of petrol pumps in the city.
While announcing their verdict, a division bench comprising Justuice A K Yog and O N Khandelwal, ruled that no subsidy should be given by the state or central governments for any kin of pilrgrimage.
The court however, sought to clarify that it did not intend to impose any restriction on the other facilities extended by the governments in the larger interest of safety and well-being of pilgrims of any community.
The order further adds, 'This would include security measures for pilgrimages like the annual Amarnath yatra as well'.
While issuing the order, the court has given six weeks time to the state and central governments to file their respective counter-affidavits in this regard.
The order has already created ripples in both political and religious circles. While political parties eyeing the Muslim vote were critical of it, the parties closely wedded to Hindutva welcomed the order .
Lawyer Hari Shankar Jain, who argued the petition was in a victorious mood. "We have succeeded in driving home our point. My contention was plain and simple � being a secular nation, the central or state governments had no business to grant special concessions for pilgrimage by members of a particular community," he said. "The practice is unconstitutional," he told IANS over telephone from Allahabad.
However, the ruling Samajwadi Party and the opposition Congress were clearly unhappy with the order.
"The order is not the end of the world; it will be challenged in the Apex court," said Congress spokesman Akhilesh Singh.
State SP chief Ram Saran Das told this correspondent, "How can you withdraw a facility that been available to members of a community for decades? Members of the Muslim community deserved such a subsidy because they were economically weaker than other communities."
Well-known Islamic scholar and cleric Maulana Khalid Rasheed, the head of Firangi Mahal, one of India's leading Islamic institutions, was of the view that the order was 'prejudicial'.
He wondered, "What is wrong with subsidy to Hajis? After all it was out of the state exchequer, which also spends on religious festivals like the Kumbh Mela."
The Maulana was confident that Muslims would get relief against the order from the country's Apex court.