The central government may approach the Supreme Court to clear the way for the Haj pilgrimage after the Allahabad High Court's refusal to take up the case of the blanket ban on subsidies for the ritual.
Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said the government would approach the apex court to go ahead with the preparation for the pilgrimage, which will take place in December.
The government started looking at its options after Justice O N Khandelwal, one of the two judges in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, refused to hear the case when the matter came up in court on Tuesday.
The bench, also comprising Justice Jagdish Bhalla, had been hearing the case of the ban on the government subsidy for Haj pilgrims for the last five months.
Though Khandelwal - one of the two judges who had last August banned central and state government subsidies for any pilgrimage - said the matter would be taken up by a different bench on May 1, officials in the ministry said transferring the case at the last minute would involve more delays.
"It is a complicated legal matter. We have to begin the process soon. So the ministry is seeking legal advice over the future course of action," said Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed, who is in charge of the Haj pilgrimage.
"The legal obstruction will also affect the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra as the high court had banned all subsidies to religious pilgrims," Ahamed told the media.
"It is not clear why the judge refused to hear the case in the last minute," added government counsel Haris Beeran, who had appeared along with Additional Solicitor General Vikas Singh.
The Lucknow bench had in August last year ordered the ban on the subsidy given by the central and state governments for all pilgrimages. The Supreme Court subsequently suspended the ban for the Haj, but only for 2006.
The stay has to be lifted by the high court to clear the way for the pilgrimage this year.
While lifting the Lucknow court ordered ban in September, the Supreme Court had requested the Allahabad court that the legal position over the subsidy be cleared before the next pilgrimage.
The central government had also appealed to the court to dispose of the matter as early as possible.
Despite the hurdles, Ahamed seemed confident that the next batch of Haj pilgrims would fly out in time.
"I am sure both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and (United Progressive Alliance chairperson) Sonia Gandhi would ensure that the pilgrimage does not face any hurdles," he said.
The central government had last year decided to pay the round trip fare to 10,000 more Haj pilgrims every year, taking the total number entitled to the subsidy to 110,000 people.
The government also pays Rs.3,250 to each pilgrim going to the Kailash Mansarovar, the revered Hindu site in Tibet.