THE LUCKNOW bench of the Allahabad High Court’s stay order on subsidy to Haj pilgrims has created a piquant situation for the Central Haj Committee.
The order comes at a time when the committee is completing formalities for the next Haj.
Shiv Sena leader BN Shukla had in 1995 moved the court demanding withdrawal of subsidy to Haj pilgrims. In response to his plea, the court in its interim order on Friday directed the State and Central governments to stop giving subsidy to Haj and other pilgrimages. Talking to Hindustan Times over phone, chairman of the Central Haj Committee Tanvir Ahmad said there was six weeks’ time to file an affidavit and the Centre would plead the case.
Chief executive officer of the committee Mohd Owais said the issue had already been taken up with the Ministry for External Affairs. He said the committee had no information about pendency of the case in the Allahabad High Court.
Haj pilgrims get subsidised Air-India tickets to Jeddah. Of the Rs 36,000 airfare, the pilgrims pay Rs 12,000 and the Centre pays the rest. With nearly one lakh people going on Haj pilgrimage every year from India, the annual subsidy burden on the Centre is Rs 240 crore. In fact, the A-I enjoys monopoly in ferrying Haj pilgrims. The Haj Act, 2002, had specified that only the national career (A-I) would fly pilgrims to Jeddah. The Haj subsidy issue had also been publicly debated in the past, but even the right NDA Government had ignored it.
Tanvir Ahmad said the court order, if not reversed, would certainly create problems for pilgrims. He hoped that the Congress-led UPA Government would now effectively pursue the case.
However, UP Haj Minister Yaqoob Qureshi, who has decided to move the Supreme Court, said if the subsidy was withdrawn then the Centre should allow other airlines to ferry pilgrims. The minister said travel by private carrier would be cheaper as each State would then be free to negotiate fare.
Prominent Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad has accused the Centre of not properly taking up the case in the court. Pilgrims pay 2700 Saudi Riyals for their stay in Mecca, 300 Riyals in Medina and other transportation charges through the committee.