Govt ends Haj subsidy

Govt ends Haj subsidy

The Centre has ended the Rs 700 crore subsidy to Haj pilgrims and will now divert the funds for the education of minorities, particularly women.

Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed that the Haj subsidy has been withdrawn, adding that the decision is in line with the government's agenda to "empower minorities without appeasement."

Naqvi said Rs 700 crore was the subsidy given for Haj when the BJP government came to power and the main beneficiary was Air India, which ferried pilgrims from different Indian cities to Mecca.

The government will now offer other options, including travel by ship to reduce the cost.

The government of Saudi Arabia has in principle agreed to allow Haj journey from India by ships and officials of the two countries would sit together to finalise the modalities.

For the first time, 1.75 lakh pilgrims will go to Haj without a subsidy.

The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the Centre to gradually reduce and abolish Haj subsidy by 2022.

The apex court wanted the subsidy amount of approximately Rs 650 crore a year then to be utilised for educational and social development of the community.

A six-member panel, headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah, favoured an immediate abolition of the subsidy so that money could be used for the welfare of the community.

The Congress welcomed the decision, saying the Modi government was merely implementing the Supreme Court decision of 2012.

"The government has not done any favour to the Hajis as it was the airlines that benefited from the subsidy," senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said.

"This government has merely ended the subsidy four years early," he said.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board's Kamal Farooqui, too, welcomed the move, saying a wrong impression was being created that Muslims were gaining from the government aid.

The decision to abolish Haj subsidy came just a day after the government allowed Muslim women above the age of 45 to go on the pilgrimage without a male guardian, in groups of at least four.

The Saudi authorities had five years ago slashed quotas for foreign pilgrims coming from each country by 20% in view of safety of the devotees as they undertook the expansion of the Grand Mosque.

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