Haj subsidy and policy vacuum

Apex court steps in as govt was unable to take a decision for four years

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | May 9, 2012



In the past couple of years, the union government has been accusing the apex court of stepping into the executive’s domain and making policy decisions on its behalf. This act of the court is described as “judicial overreach”.

There is little to dispute this but to understand why so, we need to look at the latest court verdict.

On Tuesday, the apex court asked the government to phase out Haj subsidy in the next ten years. The court said the rising cost of the Haj pilgrimage was not only draining the exchequer the subsidy (about Rs 600 crore a year) could be better used to improve the lot of the community - by way of better education, health and other facilities.

Ideally, it should have been the concern of the executive. The executive should have taken appropriate action. But look at what minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid said after the verdict was delivered.

Welcoming the decision, he told reporters: “The issue of Haj subsidy has been already under consideration for over the last four years and discussions had taken place for rollback of Haj subsidy.”

Two things are clear from this: (a) the government discussed the issue and was inclined to roll it back but (b) it couldn’t take a decision for the past four years.

What was it that prevented him from doing the obvious for so long?

You would be mistaken for thinking that a rollback would have hurt the community’s sentiments. Four years ago, a working group of Muslim MPs had demanded scrapping of the subsidy and had even suggested an institutional mechanism like the one in Malaysia which helps pilgrims to save money and provides facilities for them.

Ever since then, community leaders, including clerics, have been publicly seeking withdrawal of the subsidy, saying that it was never an issue, nor was it ever sought by the community.

So, what stopped Khurshid?

Call it policy paralysis or political vacuum. The fact remains that the UPA II is increasingly finding it difficult to take decisions.

The court is merely filling that vacuum. Can one blame the court for that?

And more than that, the court is even correcting the government when it takes rank bad decisions – be it in the case of appointment of CVC, allocation of 2G spectrum and others – and refuses to act against those holding high offices in the face of mounting evidence.

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