New Delhi, May 8: The political leadership on Tuesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to phase out subsidies given out to Muslim pilgrims who undertake the religious Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
A special bench of the apex court had earlier in the day issued the orders to strike down Haj subsidies and gradually phase out the process in the next ten years.
The bench also directed the government to reduce two of its representatives in the Prime Minister’s goodwill delegation to Saudi Arabia falling under Haj subsidy costs.
The court said that it would look into the functioning of the Haj Committee of India and its procedure for selecting people for the pilgrimage.
Speaking about the court’s decision in New Delhi, leader of ruling Congress party, Salman Khurshid said that they had been working out for a solution since long and now the apex court has voiced their efforts with the decision.
“Discussions have been going on in the government regarding the subsidy from the last five years. The conditions under which the Haj subsidy had been enforced have changed now. The subsidy is not received by the pilgrims, but by the airlines. So we had taken decision on the changes in the arrangements. The rollback on subsidy was being reduced by rupees 4000 each year. And the Supreme Court has given the orders in the same direction as well,” said Khurshid.
Welcoming the decision, main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that this decision will empower the pilgrims to choose the airlines of their choice for Haj pilgrimage.
“The Haj subsidy had been provided so long to cover the losses in the government’s various departments and especially in Air India. The Haj subsidy should be ended and along with that the pilgrims should have the freedom to go for Haj on any airlines of their own choice,” he said.
Leader of the Muslim minority party the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi said that the pilgrims never received the amount being spent under the cover of Haj subsidy.
“The reason being that the Haj subsidy which is given to Air India, it is not given to any Haj pilgrim that is roundabout to nearly rupees six billions or something which is given every year. So a Muslim who goes for performing Haj will go if one is financially and economically well off. And it is incumbent upon him to go, and the word that is used is ‘Wajib’ which means he has to go. A person who is not financially and economically well off, he has no need to go for performing Haj. And under this garb of subsidy, it is going to Air India, sick airlines” he said.
The Muslim leader added that the amount that was spared for Haj subsidy should be spent to educate girls of the Muslim community.
The court’s decision also evoked reactions from hard core right wing Hindu leader like BJP’s Yogi Adityanath who said that it was a sinister attempt by the government to appease the Muslim community by wasting public money.
“All the traditional religious pilgrimages of the country which have been going on since time immemorial like the Amarnath, Sabarimala, Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimages, they all face problems from the government. The government never supports them. On the other hand the taxes which come from Hindu temples and other Hindu citizens are spent to please a particular section of the population in the guise of Haj subsidy. The kinds of loot of public wealth are against secularism and are misdeeds of the government,” he said.
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the federal government that challenged the Bombay High Court’s judgement, which had earlier directed the Ministry of External Affairs to allow certain private operators to manage the services of 800 of the 11,000 pilgrims earmarked under the subsidized quota provided by the government.
Earlier, the bench had also rapped the federal government for politicising the Haj pilgrimage by permitting official delegations to accompany the pilgrims, for which the government offered huge subsidy.
Haj is a religious pilgrimage to holy places of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia that devout Muslims undertake. Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to perform the Haj at least once in a lifetime, as one of the five pillars of Islam. (ANI)