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Haj pilgrims will no longer receive any subsidy this year onwards, with the government saying the decision is part of its agenda of empowerment of minorities without appeasement. Subsidy given to thousands of Haj pilgrims each year will be scrapped, the government announced today, saying the big move would help empower Muslims with dignity. The subsidy took the form of discounted fares on the ailing state-owned Air India. The move comes a little over two months after Naqvi said the government could phase out the subsidy as early as 2018. In January 2017, Saudi Arabia had increased India’s annual quota for Haj pilgrims from 136,020 to 170,520. He had made the announcement after meeting officials of the Haj Committee of India and the ministries of minority affairs, civil aviation and external affairs. The six-member Haj Committee of India was constituted in January 2017 to chalk out a plan to scrap the subsidy – which is valued at around Rs 650 crore a year – in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order from May 2012. The top court had asked the government to gradually phase out the subsidy and abolish it by 2022.
“We believe in empowerment without appeasement,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is Minister for Minority Affairs. Union minister for minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday confirmed that the Haj subsidy has been withdrawn. “This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi told reporters. The decision to abolish Haj subsidy comes day after government allowed Muslim women, above the age of 45, to go on haj without male guardian, in a group of at least four. The Ministry of Minority Affairs had, last year, constituted a committee to review the existing Haj policy and suggest a framework for a new Haj policy for 2018-22. The news comes about a week after Saudi Arabia approved India’s plan to allow Haj pilgrims from the country to head to Jeddah by sea in a few years. In its proposal for a New Haj Policy for 2018-’22, an panel appointed by the Indian government had said in October 2017 that the Saudi Arabian government should be consulted on the matter as travelling by ship was cheaper than air travel. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the decision was in line with the agenda to empower minority communities ‘with dignity, without appeasement’. Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca.
“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime in 2012, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with. Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Haj subsidy gradually,” he had said.
The Haj subsidy is given to Muslim Hajj pilgrims by the government in form of discounted fares on Air India. It also includes assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, medical cares, lodging assistance and meal. The subsidy program has its origins in British colonial era. In 2008, the total subsidy provided by the government was US$ 1,815 per Muslim pilgrim.
A policy to withdraw the Haj subsidy had been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to abolish it gradually by 2022. Last year, Naqvi had said that the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in accordance with a Supreme Court order. The minister said a record 1.75 lakh Muslims would go on the Haj pilgrimage this year even after the subsidy is withdrawn. The government will offer air and waterways option for the pilgrims as cost will go up. The cut in funds meant for subsidy will be used for educational empowerment and welfare of girls from minority communities, Naqvi told media reporters.
In a big move, the government on Tuesday withdrew subsidy for Haj pilgrims. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi made this announcement. The minister added that “Haj subsidy funds will be used for educational empowerment of girls and women of minority community.” He also told reporters that despite the subsidy withdrawal, a record number of 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage this year.
“Muslims didn’t benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls,” Mr Naqvi said.
Mr Naqvi also said that the Saudi Arabian government had agreed to allow people to go on the Haj by ships, which are cheaper than flights. Officials of the two countries would together finalise the arrangement.
The minister had said earlier that the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in keeping with a Supreme Court order in 2012. Naqvi also said that the Saudi Arabian government has in principle agreed to allow Haj journey from India by ships and officials of the two countries will sit together to finalise the modalities. “This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi told reporters and cited a host of measures for the welfare of minorities.
“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with. Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Haj subsidy gradually,” he had said.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs had asked a panel to review the Haj policy and suggest a framework for a new policy for 2018-22. Its report was submitted in October. The policy aims at rationalising distribution of the Haj quota between the Haj Committee of India and private tour operators in the ratio of 70:30 for the next five years. It also stresses on breaking the cartel of contractors with a transparent bidding process.
Days ago, the government had also allowed Muslim women above 45 to go on Haj without a male guardian, in a group of at least four.
Ending subsidy and allowing older women to travel without male companions were among the recommendations of the panel headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah. The highest number of pilgrims are likely to go for Haj pilgrimage in 2018, after Saudi Arabia hiked India’s pilgrim quota by 5,000 earlier this year. Now, a total of 1.75 lakh Indian citizens can go for Haj.
Around 1,300 women from India will make the annual pilgrimage without a “Mehram” (unmarriageable male kin) after Riyadh relaxed norms and allowed a group of at least four women over the age of 45 to go on Haj unchaperoned.