Following the Union government’s decision to stop the Haj subsidy for Muslims, a minority rights organization has, in a letter to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, sought a white paper from the Government of India on the types of subsidies being offered to different religious organizations.
Signed by Majuahid Nafees of the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC), Gujarat, the letter says that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government progressively reduced the Haj subsidy ever since it came to power—it was Rs750 crore two years ago, which came to down to Rs250 in 2017-18. Yet, it adds, the whole effort is to bring about a “divide” communal divide by making it appear that only Muslims alone cornered all religious subsidies.
Objecting to the effort to paint stopping of Haj subsidy as a “big saving from wasteful expenditure," MCC claims how, a few years ago, the Kumbh festival in Allahabad carried a budget of Rs1,150 crore, all funded by the central Government. It recalls, in 2014, the Uttar Pradesh government was accused of “misusing” Rs800 crore of this amount.
“Last year," MCC says, “The Madhya Pradesh government spent Rs3,400 crore, while the Central government spent Rs100 crore for the Singhast Maha Kumbha in Ujjain.” It adds: “This apart, different governments spent huge funds for helping pilgrims visiting Badrinath, Kedarnath, Kailash Mansarovar, Amarnath and other spots.”
“Thus,” MCC says, “The government of Madhya Pradesh gives a subsidy of Rs50,000 for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra per passenger.”
Specifically referring to Gujarat, MCC says the state government “has set up what is called Pavitra Yatra Dham Vikas Board for the ‘development’ of 338 pilgrim spots across the state, even as providing a budgetary allocation of Rs106.69 crore in 2017-18.” It adds, “The state government runs a course to teach the rituals of Hinduism, funded by the state.”
Further pointing out that the present government of Uttar Pradesh has “begun programmes for the renovation and spiritual development of pilgrim spots of Kashi and Ayodhya, allocating Rs800 crore,” MCC says, “The question arises whether one should focus on government spending on Haj pilgrims alone.”
“We believe that the state should not interfere in religious practices, which is a matter of personal choice,” MCC says, even as quoting from a Supreme Court judgement which says, “The relationship between man and God is an individual choice. The state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity … Mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible.”
It also quotes Article 27 of the Indian Constitution, which states, “No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.”
MCC also quotes from a Supreme Court order of 2011, Prafull Goradia vs The Union of India, pointing towards how religious funding “violates Article 27” of the Constitution. The order said, “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 percent 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 order added.
Asking the central government to “come clean” on the issue, the MCC has sought a white paper on whatever it spends on religious pilgrims, festivals, meeting, places of worship so that the “country can know about how much the government is spending on the promotion of which religion.”