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

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New Delhi: In a big move, the government on January 16 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.
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.
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 finalize 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.
Last year, Naqvi had said that the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in accordance with a Supreme Court order.
“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.
According to sources in the minority affairs ministry, till 2017, the notional savings following gradual abolition of subsidy since 2012 was to tune of Rs 636.56 crore. In case, the government had chosen to reduce the subsidy gradually till 2022, the total national savings would have been around Rs 5970.6 crore, the sources said.
The government’s decision on revoking Haj subsidy has no meaning as there was no such concession and Muslims were being cheated in its name, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said.
“The subsidy was not given to those going on Haj but it was for Air India that is running in losses. It was an eyewash. Muslims were cheated in the name of the subsidy,” AIMPLB General Secretary Maulana Wali Rahmani told PTI.
“In normal days, tickets for Saudi Arabia come for Rs 32,000 but during Haj, Air India used to charge Rs 65,000 to Rs 1 lakh from those going for Haj. The fare will be less without subsidy,” he said.
Reacting cautiously to the government’s decision, the Congress said it hopes that the Modi government will honor the apex court’s direction and utilize this money for the education and development of the disempowered among the minorities, including young girls.
Welcoming the Centre’s decision, the Vishva Hindu Parishad said the money saved from it should be utilized for the education of poor Hindu girls.

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