The Centre on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court for permission to extend the facility of subsidy to Haj pilgrims and monetary and other logistic support to Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims for this year.
Solicitor General G E Vahanvati mentioned the Centre’s urgent application before a Bench, headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, which fixed May 7 for hearing.
The Allahabad High Court had on August 25, 2006, restrained the government from giving financial subsidy to pilgrims of any community except for ensuring safety of pilgrims.
On the Centre challenging the high court’s order, the apex court had lifted the stay on September 18 last year and permitted subsidy only for Haj 2006-II. About 1.50 lakh pilgrims are expected to go for Haj this year.
Now the Centre wants the court to modify its September 18, 2006 order and allow it to extend the subsidy to Haj pilgrims and monetary and other logistic support to those going to Kailash Mansarovar.
The Centre submitted that Kailash Mansarovar Yatra would commence in the first week of June.
It pointed out that the Government through MEA pays Rs 3,250 per pilgrim to Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) to partially offset the expenditure incurred by KMVN towards logistical arrangements for the pilgrims. Unless an early decision is taken to pay Rs 3,250 per pilgrim to KMVN, it would create difficulties, the Centre said in its application.
The Centre also pointed out that despite the apex court asking the high court to expeditiously decide the matter before Haj-2007, the case is still hanging fire. Now it has to be placed before a new Bench as one of the Judges hearing the case has recused himself.
Negotiations for Haj pilgrimage, scheduled to take place in December, have also commenced and unless the subsidy issue becomes clear, it will be difficult for the government to discuss air transport arrangements, it said.
Maintaining that granting assistance for pilgrimage is a matter of policy, the Centre has been contending that “it is not within the province of the courts to interfere with the policy decision unless it is contrary to any provision of the Constitution.”
Brushing aside the charge that Haj subsidy was against secularism, the Centre defended it on the ground that such financial assistance was being given to people of other religions as well.