Friday, May 11, 2012

Fwd: End subsidies that don't square with secularism

End subsidies that don't square with secularism

The Supreme Court has struck a blow for secularism when it ordered the Union government to eliminate Haj subsidy, progressively over the next 10 years. If at all the order can be found fault with, it is for the long period the government has been allowed to end the subsidy that should ideally have been ended a long time ago. Whatever might have been the circumstance in which the questionable practice was begun — nationalisation of the shipping company that used to ferry Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and back — it did not square well with secularism the state was supposed to follow. It amounted to what some sections of society derisively referred to as 'appeasement' of Muslims.

A secular state has no obligation to subsidise anybody's religious practice. In the case of the Haj, it is not even obligatory for every Muslim to perform it. It is compulsory only for those who can afford it, once in their lifetime. For the poor, performing Umrah in the month of Ramadan is as good as performing the Haj. Even a Muslim country like Pakistan does not offer such subsidies. Though the subsidy was given in the name of the poor, the fact is that it benefited only those who are rich or are relatively better off, compared to the very poor who cannot even afford to make passports for themselves.Under the peculiar arrangement followed, only Air India and Saudi Airlines are allowed to carry Haj pilgrims enjoying the benefits of subsidy. If other airlines are also allowed to compete, the cost of tickets is bound to fall. The apex court has also come down heavily on the needless practice of sending large official delegations to accompany the pilgrims. In most cases, they are just hangers-on of those in power. The Haj subsidy has encouraged some states like Delhi to offer cash subsidy to Hindu pilgrims going to Manasarovar in China and Andhra Pradesh to earmark funds for Christians going to Jerusalem. The court's order should provide an impetus to stop all such practices, which do not square with secularism.

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