The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government to phase out the Haj subsidy within a period of 10 years, saying the amount could be more profitably used for social and educational development of the Muslim community.
A bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai quoted the Quran to justify doing away with the subsidy, which was around Rs 685 crore in 2011, noting that many
Muslims would not be very "comfortable" to know that their Haj is funded to a large extent by the government.
"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," the bench said.
The Centre at present foots an amount of Rs 38,000 per Haji by giving subsidised airfare.
The bench fixed a time frame of ten years for gradually eliminating subsidies to Haj pilgrims. Last year, nearly 1.25 lakh pilgrims went for Haj.
"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 observed.
"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," the bench said.
"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. 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.
The bench also directed that the practice of sending government's representative with the Haj delegation must be stopped.
"We fully appreciate the idea of the people of India extending their goodwill to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the auspicious occasion of Haj but we completely fail to see how even that purpose can be served by sending such a large, unwieldy, amorphous and randomly selected delegation. On careful consideration of the issue we are quite clear that the present practice of sending Goodwill Haj Delegation must come to stop," the bench said.
It further said that the Centre can send a leader and a deputy leader in the course of Haj to send a message of goodwill to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The bench said that the government had started sending a Goodwill Delegation to counter the anti-India propaganda, which was not needed at present.
"It is no secret that after the 1965 war, Pakistan tried to use even the Haj pilgrimage for its anti-India propaganda and the purpose of sending the Goodwill Delegation was to counter the anti-India propaganda," said the bench..
"The reason for which the delegation was first sent has long ceased to exist and Pakistan is no longer sending any official Goodwill Haj Delegation to Saudi Arabia. It may, however, be contended that with the passage of time the purpose of the delegation has changed and in the changed circumstances the delegation serves other objects and purpose," the bench said.