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Supreme Court rejects petition challenging Haj subsidy

New Delhi: A Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra on 28 January dismissed a petition by former BJP-MP. Prafull Goradia challenging Haj subsidy on the ground that this subsidy is discriminatory, violative of the Constitution and is a big burden on the Indian exchequer. The bench ruled that this subsidy is neither discriminatory nor the Haj Committee Act 2002 granting subsidy to Muslim pilgrims going for Haj in any way violates the Constitution. Goradia in his petition filed in 2007 had argued that he is a Hindu but he and other Hindus had to pay direct and/or indirect taxes, parts of which are paid by government as subsidy for Haj which is performed only by Muslims. Hence, it is discriminatory and in violation of the Constitution’s Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (right to non-discrimination) and particularly 27 (no tax or part of it to be used for payment of any religious practices). Moreover, he said that every year government spends approximately Rs 280 crore of tax payers money for subsidising air travels of Muslims who go on pilgrimage (to Makka) which is a big burden on India’s exchequer. The Supreme Court bench ruled that since Haj Committee Act 2002 providing, among other things, payment of Haj subsidy was passed by the Indian Parliament which is fully competent to do so, this does not in any way violate the Constitution. As regards the subsidy being discriminatory and a drain on tax payers money, the Bench argued that some state governments as well as central government spend small parts of tax payers money for providing facilities, conveniences, concessions or security to pilgrims for Kumbh Mela and other pilgrimages in different parts of the country, to Mansarover and visit of Hindus and Sikhs to temples and gurdwaras in Pakistan. Hence the Haj Committee Act and subsidy are neither discriminatory nor violative of the Constitution. The Bench further said that if a small part of the tax-payers money is spent for providing facilities to any religious denomination, it would not be violative of Article 27 and only when a ‘substantial’ part of the tax is used for any particular religion, it would be in violation of Art 27. Moreover, the Bench added, for observing the principles of secularism, progress and stability and giving equal respect to all religious and other communities, we should observe tolerance.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2011 on page no. 18

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