The Union Cabinet on Thursday raised the number of Haj pilgrims entitled to government subsidy to 1.1 lakh for Haj 2006-II that will begin later this month.
In Haj 2006-I that started in December 2005 and spilled over to early 2006, India had a quota of 1.47 lakh pilgrims. Of these, 1 lakh were entitled to receive financial subsidy from the government; the remaining 47,000 pilgrims were to arrange for their own transport and lodging.
"Approximately 1.1 lakh pilgrims will be benefited during Haj 2006-II," Information and Broadcasting Minister PR Dasmunsi said. The move comes in the backdrop of a legal battle being fought in the courts by the government to continue financial assistance to Haj pilgrims.
The government spent nearly Rs 180 crore on the last Haj subsidy; Thursday's decision could push this expenditure by at least 10 per cent.
The Supreme Court had in September stayed operation of an interim high court order restraining the government from subsidising Haj. But the court had then observed that while there was no objection to making arrangements for pilgrims, direct financial subsidy was not permissible.
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court was then also asked to dispose of the petition that is challenging subsidy for a pilgrimage in a secular country before Haj 2007.
The Supreme Court had, however, allowed the government to continue the subsidy this year on the ground that the government had already made arrangements; withdrawing the subsidy would derail the process.
The centre had pleaded India's reputation was at stake and there would be international ramifications in securing quota for Indians at future Haj programmes.
It had been argued by the centre that the government had signed an agreement with the authorities concerned in Saudi Arabia for sending 1,47,000 pilgrims for Haj 2006-II of which 1,00,000 would be sent through the Haj Committee of India.
The implementation of the high court judgment would derail the Haj arrangements and the quota for sending 1,47,000 pilgrims would be in jeopardy and would have serious international ramifications in securing quota for Indians at future Haj programs.