Subsidy for Haj pilgrims wrong

The Central government’s decision to set up a committee on the subsidy being given to Haj pilgrims every year is welcome, but the committee’s brief should go beyond what is given to it. The subsidy is mainly in the form of discounted Air India fares to Saudi Arabia. The need to subsidise the pilgrimage has long been a matter of debate. But no government has shown an indication of correcting this wrong policy which is being followed for many years. Even when setting up the committee, the government’s claim was that it was not meant to stop the subsidy but to find ways and means to make it more economical and efficient. It is not for a secular state to extend subsidies for religious pilgrimages. The government should set up the necessary infrastructure and increase facilities at pilgrim centres within the country for those who travel there. In the case of pilgrimages to holy places outside the country, it can provide travel facilities and good consular services to pilgrims. But financing their travel is wrong on principle.

The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the government to phase out Haj subsidy in the next 10 years, and said that the money could be used for the social and economic development of the Muslim community. The court wanted the subsidy to be stopped not because it was against the Constitution and the law, but because it cannot be justified on the basis of Quranic teachings. Haj is a duty for Muslims but it should be undertaken only by those who can bear the expenses on their own. So it is against the religious tenet to subsidise it and to accept such a subsidy. But the idea has become mixed up with politics and governments are unable to discontinue the practice. The practice of subsidy has wrongly been extended to Hindu pilgrimages too. Many state governments extend subsidy for Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage. This too is wrongful and inappropriate use of public funds.

About Rs 850 crore is spent on Haj subsidy every year. With Saudi Arabia increasing India’s Haj quota, the spending will also be higher. The government spends some money on related activities also. All this can be better used to promote the education of Muslim children and for the health and welfare of the community. The community is backward in terms of all socio-economic indicators. The Sachar committee has already highlighted this. Subsidies, as political sops, will not reduce backwardness and deprivation. Many Muslim leaders like MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi do not support the idea of Haj subsidy. The country and the community can well do without it.  

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