Haj subsidy: SC seeks Govt's explanation
The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Centre on a petition by a former BJP MP challenging the Constitutional validity of the Haj Committee Act, 1959 under which an annual financial assistance of about Rs 280 crore is given to Muslims embarking on Haj.
Contending that funding of Haj pilgrimage by the state at the expense of taxpayers' money ran contrary to the secular and socialist character of the Constitution, petitioner Prafull Goradia requested the court to direct the Government refund his share of tax spent on the pilgrimage.
In this context, the petitioner mentioned the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution by which "Socialist" and "Secular" words were inserted in the preamble to the Constitution.
He complained that provision of special subsidy to the Muslims to the exclusion of other religious communities like Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs violated the Constitution as the state cannot discriminate between the citizens on the grounds of religion, caste or creed.
Quoting various provisions of the Constitution, he submitted that his fundamental rights, particularly those under Article 27, have been violated.
According to Article 27, "no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated for the payment of expenses for the promotion and maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination."
He submitted that the special financial assistance to the Haj pilgrims from the taxpayers' money was discriminatory as no such facilities were being extended to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and other religious communities.
After issuing the notice, a Bench headed by Justice HK Sema directed that the petition be tagged along with the Centre's appeal against an Allahabad High Court order restraining the Centre from giving subsidy to Haj pilgrims.
Another Bench of the apex court had in September last year stayed the August 25 order of the High Court and allowed subsidy for this year only while asking the High Court to expeditiously decide the matter.
The Supreme Court has already issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh Government and Shiv Sena leader BN Shukla, on whose petition the High Court had passed the order.
About 1.47 lakh pilgrims are to go to Saudi Arabia for Haj in 2007 out of which one lakh would embark on the pilgrimage through various Haj Committees while the rest would travel on their on or through travel agencies.
The apex court had earlier observed that there was no objection to the government making arrangements for pilgrims but direct financial subsidy was not permissible. It had sought to know if in any other pilgrimage government gave subsidy of this nature.
Contending that granting assistance was a matter of policy, the Centre had contended that "it is not within the province of the courts to interfere with the policy decision unless it is contrary to any statute or any provision of the Constitution."
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