Remove Haj subsidy in 10 years, SC tells government

New Delhi, May 8: The Supreme Court Tuesday directed the government to eliminate the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in the next 10 years.

Coming out against the government policy of subsidies to pilgrims going for Haj to the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia every year, an apex court bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice R.P. Desai also cut the strength of goodwill delegation sent by the government.

The court said that the goodwill delegation sent by the government every year to Makkah would comprise only two members – its leader and the deputy leader.

At present, the goodwill delegation consists of 30 members.

In the course of the hearing that commenced Oct 18, 2011, when the apex court stayed a Bombay High Court order, the central government offered to reduce the strength of the goodwill delegation to 10 members.

The court was told that the delegation, besides conveying India’s goodwill to the Saudi Arabia government on the occasion Haj, also interacts with the “Haj pilgrims from India, understands their issues and takes up the same with the Saudi Arabian authorities”.

The court also sought details from the state-level Haj committees and the Haj Committee of India as to how subsidy was given and what the total expenditure on it was.

The apex court said this while pronouncing its judgment on the central government’s petition challenging the Oct 5, 2011 high court judgment by which it directed the government to give its remaining quota of 800 Haj pilgrims to private operators so that this did not go unutilised.

The high court judgment came after some private tour operators moved it challenging the external affairs mnistry’s policy which said that only those operators would be eligible for the allocation of Haj pilgrims’ quota who had an office space measuring at least 250 sq. feet.

The modified policy asked the private tour operators to give bank guarantee of Rs.100,000 for every 100 Hajis they were carrying for the pilgrimage.

IANS