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Haj subsidy discontinued: Credit for phasing it out goes to Supreme Court

Haj subsidy scrapped: The subsidy, which stood at Rs 685 crore in 2011 is down to Rs 200 crore in 2017. It seems as if the phasing out will happen even ahead of schedule.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Updated: January 17, 2018 5:43 pm
Haj subsidy scrapped: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. (Source: AP)

Phasing out the Haj subsidy was a long-standing plan of the government of India, prompted not by fiscal prudence or politics, but an order of the Supreme Court which, in 2012, stated in no uncertain terms that 10 years would be the upper limit for the continuation of the Rs 685 crore (in 2011) Haj subsidy. In the interim, the subsidy has been steadily going down — it was around Rs 200 crore last year and the phasing out was endorsed by the Afzal Amanullah Committee in its October 2017 report.

When Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told The Indian Express last week about the discontinuation of the Haj subsidy, he was merely reiterating the government’s obligation to go by the apex court’s order, flagging an ongoing process. On May 8, 2012, a Bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and Aftab Alam, while passing an order on the eligibility of private tour operators (PTOs) to take pilgrims to the holy shrine of Mecca, quoted extensively from the Quran to justify the discontinuation of the subsidy.

READ | Govt scraps Haj subsidy, says will use funds to ’empower minorities’

Their order read, “This Court has no claim to speak on behalf of all the Muslims of the country… it will be presumptuous for us to try to tell the Muslims what is for them a good or bad religious practice. Nevertheless, we have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Haj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage… if all the facts are made known a good many… would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Haj is funded to a substantial extent by the government… the holy Quran in verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran ordains: ‘… In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security. And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence); and whoever disbelieves [i.e. denies Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), then he is a disbeliever of Allah], then Allah stands not in need of any of the Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists).’ We, therefore, direct the Central Government to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it within a period of 10 years from today. The subsidy money may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development.” May 8, 2022 was the deadline given by the Supreme Court for phasing out the Haj subsidy.

The court found no justification for charging pilgrims an amount much lower than even the normal airfare for a return journey to Jeddah. The UPA government then in power argued in court that higher fares were charged by the airlines during the Haj period due to regulations imposed by the Saudi Arabian authorities. “The norm is that the airline should carry pilgrims to Jeddah and return with zero load… This forces airlines to increase the fares, which otherwise come to around Rs 25,000. Therefore, the government thought it fit to collect a reasonable fare from the pilgrim and the additional fare charged because of the Haj-specific logistics is paid by the government to the airline. The government also decided not to pass on… the additional amount charged by the airline, purely on logistics, to the pilgrims. During the Haj of 2011, each pilgrim was charged Rs 16,000 towards airfare and the additional amount of Rs 38,000 per Haji is what is termed “subsidy”… the subsidy is given only to those pilgrims who go through the Haj Committee of India,” the government told the court.

Also Read | What about funds given for Hindu pilgrimages, asks Owaisi

That order is where the phasing out plan began, alongside efforts to reduce expenses. The reduction of costs was the primary motive for the exploration of a sea route to Jeddah, discontinued in 1995. Currently, every year, pilgrims go for Haj according to the quota fixed for particular countries by the Saudi Arabian authorities. For India, the quota currently stands at 1,75,000 people — it was recently increased. The NDA government has showcased this as indicative of not just India’s growing foreign prowess, but also its commitment to the Muslim community.

haj, haj subsidy, hajj, hajj subsidy, haj india, supreme court, assaduddin owaisi, owaisi, india news, sc haj subsidy, Afzal Amanullah Committee, india news Haj subsidy scrapped: In Srinagar, a Kashmiri woman pilgrim (R) leaves for Haj in Mecca, carrying the good wishes of family and friends. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

That is also how the government presented the recent decision to allow women above 45 years of age to go for Haj in a group of four or more without a male guardian, even though the change of rules on this was actually rolled out by Saudi Arabia. India merely brought its own rules up to date three years later.

Also Read | Haj subsidy cancelled: All you need to know about the 85-year-old policy

The number of Haj pilgrims has been rising over the years, as has the subsidy.

In 1994, the number of Haj pilgrims from India was as low as 21,035 — by 2011, the number increased to 1,25,000. In 1994, the cost of travel per pilgrim was only Rs 1,700 — by 2011, that went up to Rs 54,800. As a result, the total Haj subsidy, Rs 10.51 crores in 1994, swelled to Rs 685 crores by 2011.

Abantika Ghosh works with the Indian Express in New Delhi. She tweets @abantika77

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  1. Mohammed Sohail
    Jan 20, 2018 at 6:32 am
    Government should stop paying kumbh mela and feeding cow mata in Gau-shala in the name of religious fund. Muslims should have choice know to travel by their choice of airlines instead feeding Indian airlines who gives third class facilities and asking to pay more.
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    1. Bhaskar Mittal
      Jan 19, 2018 at 1:50 am
      Khangress introduced all this for votes. Hindus get nothing from Khangress
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      1. Freaky Jesus
        Jan 19, 2018 at 1:30 am
        There have also been false requests by Muslims to withdraw subsidy including some Muslim Parliament members as it is against Islam even it was beneficial. However, the muslims had a choice not to accept the subsidy and yet millions availed this Indian (mostly burden on poor Hindu) taxpayers funded subsidy to airlift muslims to Jeddah and pay for their Haj. No other country in the world subsidizes Haj not even muslim majority countries. Separate terminals at the airport were created for Haj traffic even though airports in India didnt have enough infrastructure to handle normal tax payers not-subsidized full fare paying air passengers creating hurdles and inconvenience to full fare paying air passengers. Muslims practically flew for free to Jeddah paid by the Hindu majority tax payers of India and yet they are shameless and thankless. If you think it was to fund Saudia then why didnt you pay and flew on your own rather than using this subsidy by poor Indians (mostly Hindus).
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        1. Freaky Jesus
          Jan 19, 2018 at 1:28 am
          The Haj subsidy is a subsidy given to Indian Muslim by the Government of India (funded by Indian mostly Hindu tax payers) in form of heavily discounted Air fares on Indian Government owned Air India and for past 10 years on Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airline). The program has its origins in British colonial era. In post-colonial era, the Government of India expanded the program in 1959 with the Hajj Act. The subsidy initially applied to Indian Muslim pilgrims traveling for religious reasons to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan. Haj subsidy started in 1932, as an idea initiated by the Colonia Britishers and then Independent India's government expanding it, with flights between Mumbai and Jeddah. Additional flight legs were added over the years, and since 1984, all Haj traffic has been shared by Air India and Saudia, the national carriers of India and Saudi Arabia and now only Saudia flies them.
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          1. Freaky Jesus
            Jan 19, 2018 at 1:26 am
            Since 1947, over 15 million Muslims have used the subsidy since 2008, over 120,000 Indian Muslim every year make use of the subsidy. The Hajj subsidy includes an airfare subsidy as well as assistance to Muslims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, meal, medical care and lodging assistance provided by the Government of India. The average airfare subsidy was about ₹73,526 (US$1,200) per Muslim in 2008 while the average non-airfare financial assistance was ₹2,697 (US$42) per pilgrim. The total subsidy provided by the Government of India was US$1,815 per Muslim pilgrim in 2008. This subsidy was given by tax payers (mostly poor Hindus) who funded the huj while most Indians didnt even have food to eat or clothes to wear they the Hindus were paying for airtravel for millions of muslims. And muslims as usual are thankless and shameless pigs. Not a single thank you from them. No wonder they all muslims are terrorists.
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