The government Tuesday announced that there will not be any subsidy for Haj pilgrimage from this year. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the move, in line with an apex court order of 2012, was part of the government’s efforts to “empower minorities” without appeasement. “There will be no subsidy on Haj now,” Naqvi said. A record 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage this year from India, he told reporters. The government had spent more than Rs 250 crore last year on subsidising the annual pilgrimage of Muslims, he said.
The decision is in line with a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the government to do away with the subsidy, which had long been sought by the BJP. The BJP had cited the subsidy as an example of “Muslim appeasement” by parties like the Congress.
The main Opposition Congress hoped that the government would utilise the money for the welfare of poor children. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad recalled that the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam had in May 2012 directed gradual abolition of Haj subsidy within 10 years. The court, he said, had directed that the money saved be utilised for welfare, development and education of minorities.
“The government has decided to wind up this subsidy almost four years before the date prescribed by the Supreme Court, we don’t have any issue… I am sure the government will implement the second part of the judgment too… and utilise the money for welfare and education of poor children,” he said.
Azad said the Hajis were not benefiting from the subsidy. “It is the airlines that were benefiting…. the normal fare from any part of the country to Jeddah is far less than the airlines are charging. The actual beneficiaries are the airlines… so let them not say that the government was pleasing anybody… the government was pleasing the airlines… not Hajis,” he said.
Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said: “We sincerely hope the Modi government will honour the SC direction and utilise this money for the disempowered, including modern education to children, especially young girls from minority community… provision for helping destitute women (including widowed, abandoned or divorced)… and make other provisions for uplift and social development of the minority community.”
With the Supreme Court ordering gradual reduction of the money spent on Haj pilgrims — they have been provided cheaper air tickets — the government has taken the step to empower minorities, the minister said. “It is part of Modi government’s efforts to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” he said.
He said the government was making efforts to bring down the cost of the pilgrimage too. He said that with Saudi Arabia agreeing to allow Indians to go on Haj by the sea route, officials of the two countries will work out the modalities. Haj pilgrims from certain regions will have the option to choose from where they want to fly to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, he said, claiming this would bring down the cost by up to 70 per cent on some routes.