New Delhi, Oct 18: The Supreme Court today frowned on the Centre's practise of “politicising” the annual Haj pilgrimage by permitting official delegations to accompany the pilgrims, for which the government offers huge subsidy, saying “it's a bad religious practice”.
“What kind of practise is this? May be it has political use. It is a bad religious practise. It is not really Haj,” a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said.
The apex court made the remarks while dealing with the Centre's appeal challenging a Bombay High Court judgement which had directed the Ministry of External Affairs to allow certain private operators to operate the services of 800 pilgrims out of the 11,000 pilgrims earmarked under the VIP quota subsidised by the government.
The bench had on October 10 stayed the high court order. The apex court today, while extending the stay however, minced no words in expressing displeasure at the manner in which VIPs, particularly government officials, go on the pilgrimage at the cost of the state exchequer.
The bench told Attorney General G E Vahanvati and counsel Harris Beeran, appearing for the Centre, that the government must evolve a new policy for Haj next year which would be monitored by the court.
“We will oversee the policy. We will keep the matter pending till then,” the bench said.
Justice Alam pointed out that in the past the “Haj pilgrimage was undertaken by people in their old age at their own costs after discharging all their duties.” But now, the government is funding the pilgrimages of even officials and other VIPs which it said is a “bad religious practice.
The high court had passed the order on October 5 on petitions filed by over 40 private tour operators challenging the MEA decision to disallow those operators who did not have minimum 250 square feet office area.
The operators had contended the MEA's decision was irrational and unreasonable to benefit select operators. The MEA had contended before the Bombay High Court that the final list of tour operators selected for sending Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia was already sent and no changes can be made.
However, the high court has ordered the Ministry to maintain the status quo. Aggrieved by the HC's direction, the Centre moved the apex court.