New Delhi: The Supreme Court might have finally given a roadmap to do away with Haj subsidy but a move was afoot in the government 15 years ago to gradually withdraw the contentious assistance which did not take off.
A Cabinet note was prepared by Civil Aviation Secretary M K Kaw in 1997 when I K Gujral was Prime Minister who took a "strange route" of not convening a Cabinet meeting but a meeting of all parties.
Kaw has written about the issue in his book "An Outsider Everywhere: Revelations by an Insider", which will be released on Thursday.
"When I studied the case, I found that the (Haj) subsidy was initially meant for very poor pilgrims and the numbers were small. As the years passed, the number of pilgrims and the quantum of subsidy increased by leaps and bounds," he said.
Kaw remembered that he prepared a note for the Cabinet in which he "clearly" stated that such a subsidy was only allowed for Muslims.
"What was suggested was a gradual tapering off of the numbers and extent of subsidy, so that it was reduced to nil in the fifth year," he wrote.
The note went to the Council of Ministers and Gujral held a special meeting at his residence and called a representative of each of the 23 parties supporting his government whether they were members of his Cabinet or not.
"Gujral insisted that each member present should express his views. As expected, the proposal fell through," he said in the book.
Kaw said that Gujral and then Civil Aviation Minister C M Ibrahim were supportive of the move to do away with the subsidy. "I felt happy that the idea mooted by me has taken some shape. I sought to do away with it in five years though the Supreme Court has given ten years time for it," he said.
The Supreme Court yesterday directed the government to eliminate Haj subsidy within 10 years, saying that this amount can be used for social and educational development of Muslims.