India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the government to scrap a state policy of subsidizing the travel of thousands of Muslims to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
“We hold that the policy is best done away with and it should be eliminated over 10 years,” said justice Altamas Kabir, striking down New Delhi’s argument that pilgrims were entitled to the state help once in their lifetime.
The court also scrapped New Delhi’s plans to send a nine-member official team to Mecca for hajj, which must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to make the journey.
The court stipulated that only two officials should go to the world’s biggest gathering in Saudi Arabia -- guardian of the two holiest Muslim shrines in the cities of Mecca and Medina, the birthplaces of Islam.
According to official records, nearly 125,000 Indians enjoyed the hajj subsidy last year.
The government subsidizes state-run Air India, which offers cut-rate tickets to Indian pilgrims.