The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday sought response from the Punjab government on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the Tirath Darshan scheme.
The bench of justice SS Saron and justice Gurmit Ram sought response from the state government by May 20 on a petition of Ludhiana resident Kuldip Singh Khaira.
The petitioner had submitted that in the last three months in 2015, the government had sanctioned Rs 46.50 crore for payment to the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited, and on that basis, it could be safely concluded that in 2016, around Rs 182 crore would be spent by state for the pilgrimage.
It was argued that a vague criterion had been prescribed for the selection of pilgrims and MLAs of the ruling party were handing over the lists of names to the deputy commissioners concerned. “There are no clear and specific criteria nor any transparent method of receiving applications from prospective pilgrims and finalising the list of pilgrims,” the petitioner had alleged seeking abolition of the scheme.
It was further argued that the public money was being “wasted” as the scheme seems to be a “free tour for supporters” of the ruling political party. “If lakhs of pilgrims are taken to religious destinations before the February 2017 elections, it will amount to bribing a very huge percentage of voters, by doing them a favour, which would put a question mark on the doctrine of free and fair elections,” said the petition.
The HC has put the Punjab government, state transport commissioner, and director, tourism and cultural affairs department on notice.
Earlier this year, a single-judge bench had also questioned the state’s scheme and sought details related to state’s finances and during the course of proceedings in matter, it had come to light that at least Rs 1,800-crore bills of five key departments such as education, local bodies, public works, sales tax and irrigation were pending for clearance before the government.