Govt subsidy for pilgrimages not unconstitutional

New Delhi: Government subsidy to Muslims for Haj pilgrimage or similar benefits for other religions is not violative of the Constitution, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled.

The apex court rejected the argument that grant of subsidy for Muslims undertaking the Haj amounts to violation of Articles 14 (equality),15 b(non-discrimination) and 27 (no public taxing for promoting any religion).

A bench of justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said in an order that nothing was unconstitutional if a small portion of public money is used for subidising pilgrimage.

"In our opinion, Article 27 would be violated if a substantial part of the entire income tax collected in India, or a substantial part of the entire central excise or the customs duties or sales tax or a substantial part of any other tax collected in India, were to be utilized for promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.

"In other words, suppose 25 per cent of the entire income tax collected in India was utilized for promoting or maintaining any particular religion or religious denomination, that,in our opinion, would be violative of Article 27 of the Constitution," the bench said in the ruling.

The apex court made the remarks while dismising a petition filed by former BJP MP Prafull Goradia challenging the constitutional validity of the Haj Committee Act 1959 on the ground that it was violative of the Constitution particulary, Article 27.

The petitioner had contended that he is a Hindu but part of direct and indirect taxes proceeds go for the Haj pilgrimage, which is done only by Muslims.

He quoted Article 27 which prohibits payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.

Rejecting the argument, the apex court said "in our opinion, if only a relatively small part of any tax collected is utilized for providing some conveniences or facilities or concessions to any religious denomination, that would not be violative of Article 27 of the Constitution. It is only when a substantial part of the tax is utilized for any particular religion that Article 27 would be violated".

The apex court also took into consideration the affidavit of the central government and UP government which stated that similar expenditure was being incurred for the Kumbh Mela, facilitation of pilgrimages to Manasarovar in China for Hindu pilgrims.

Similarly, it said some state governments provide facilities to Hindu and Sikh pilgrims to visit temples and gurudwaras in Pakistan, which are very small expenditures in proportion to the entire tax collection in the country.