The Supreme Court on Tuesday assailed the Centre's policy of “politicizing” the annual Haj pilgrimage that gives discretionary power to the government to nominate pilgrims under its own quota.
A bench of justice Aftab Alam and justice Ranjana Prakash Desai termed it as "bad religious practice" and said it would monitor government's new policy for Haj next year.
The bench made the critical comments during the hearing of the Centre's appeal challenging Bombay HC verdict directing the government to allot 800 seats of its 11,000 earmarked under the government quota to private tour operators. Every year around 1,70,000 pilgrims go for Haj. A lottery system is followed since the number of pilgrims keen for Haj goes up to 3 lakhs every year. One lakh and twenty five thousand pilgrims get selected through the Haj Committee, while 45,000 get through private tour operators.
The government quota comprises 11,000 seats, which is divided amongst politically sensitive states and those states that apply in excess before the Haj Committee. The remaining seats are given to those who apply before the Committee and have recommendations from eminent persons such as prime minister, cabinet minister or member of Parliament.
“What kind of practice is this? May be it has political use. It is a bad religious practice. It is not really Haj,” the bench said.
It, however, continued its stay order on the HC judgment and permitted the government to go ahead with its policy. On an urgent mentioning by the Centre, the apex court had on October 10 stayed the HC order.
While extending the stay, the bench expressed its displeasures at the manner in which ‘VIPs’ go on the pilgrimage at the cost of state exchequer.