Draft pro­posal to abol­ish Haj sub­sidy

It also sug­gested that women un­der­take the pil­grim­age with­out male relatives

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - SANA SHAKIL @ New Delhi

New Delhi: The spe­cial Haj com­mit­tee has sub­mit­ted a draft pol­icy to the Cen­tre sug­gest­ing sev­eral re­forms, in­clud­ing im­me­di­ate abo­li­tion of the Haj sub­sidy and al­low­ing women above the age of 45 to go on pil­grim­age with­out a male mehram (close rel­a­tive) pro­vided they go in a group of four women or more. Sources told Ex­press that mi­nor­ity af­fairs min­is­ter Mukhtar Ab­bas Naqvi had dis­cussed this is­sue with Saudi Ara­bian au­thor­i­ties. The com­mit­tee said Saudi Ara­bia al­ready has a set-up that fa­cil­i­tates such an op­tion for women pil­grims. If the rec­om­men­da­tions are ac­cepted, there will be no sub­sidy for pil­grims from 2018 on­wards.

THE spe­cial Haj com­mit­tee on Sat­ur­day sub­mit­ted a draft to the Cen­tre and sug­gested a slew of re­forms in the ex­ist­ing Haj pol­icy, which in­cludes im­me­di­ate abo­li­tion of the Haj sub­sidy and al­low­ing women devo­tees above the age of 45 to un­der­take the pil­grim­age with­out any male mehram (close rel­a­tive).

The rec­om­men­da­tion is highly sig­nif­i­cant as presently, In­dian women can­not un­der­take Haj with­out a male Mehram. A male Mehram refers to some­one a woman can­not marry at any point in her life (i.e. fa­ther, brother or son etc).

Se­nior of­fi­cials in the min­istry of mi­nor­ity af­fairs said that if the min­istry ac­cepts the com­mi­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions, then there will be no sub­sidy for pil­grims from 2018 on­wards. In­stead t he funds will be used for ed­u­ca­tional em­pow­er­ment and wel­fare of Mus­lims. Sources told the New

In­dian Ex­press that mi­nor­ity af­fairs min­is­ter Mukhtar Ab­bas Naqvi had dis­cussed this is­sue with Saudi Ara­bian au­thor­i­ties ear­lier. Upon dis­cus­sion they found that Saudi Ara­bia al­ready has a setup of fa­cil­i­tat­ing women pil­grims. They also found that women pil­grims of a few other coun­tries have fa­cil­i­ties to un­der­take Haj pil­grim­age with­out go­ing in the com­pany of men.

How­ever, the rec­om­men­da­tion of al­low­ing women to un­der­take Haj with­out a male mehram comes with two con­di­tions. Firstly, a woman has to be aged over 45 years and the sec­ond con­di­tion stip­u­lates women to travel in a group of four or more women.

The panel also pro­posed to in­crease the quota for Mehrams from 200 to 500. An­other key rec­om­men­da­tion made by the ex­pert com­mit­tee is of abol­ish­ing the quota for sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans and fourth timers in the pil­grim­age.

On the much an­tic­i­pated plan of re­viv­ing the sea route for Haj pil­grims, the com­mit­tee said that a de­ci­sion would be taken af­ter con­sult­ing with the Saudi gov­ern­ment and gaug­ing the mar­ket be­cause ship jour­neys are rel­a­tively cheaper than flights. How­ever, the com­mit­tee has also asked the gov­ern­ment to be cau­tious of So­ma­lian piracy and the in­sta­bil­ity in Ye­men and ad­ja­cent ar­eas while pre­par­ing a sea route for Haj pil­grims.

A se­nior min­istry of­fi­cial ex­plained, “EPs will be re­duced keep­ing in mind ship jour­neys. The com­mit­tee pro­poses invit­ing global ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est from ves­sel own­ers hav­ing a ca­pac­ity of 4,000 plus pas­sen­gers. Even if 10 such trips are made to Saudi Ara­bia, 40,000 to 50,000 pil­grims can eas­ily be fer­ried,” the source said.

Con­sid­er­ing the pend­ing pri­vati­sa­tion of Air India — the pri­mary car­rier of Haj pil­grims —, the com­mit­tee also ad­vised the gov­ern­ment to plan the air travel prop­erly. The pro­posed pol­icy aims at ra­tio­nal­is­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of the Haj quota be­tween the Haj Com­mit­tee of India and pri­vate tour op­er­a­tors in the ra­tio of 70:30 for the next five years.

It also stresses on break­ing the car­tel of con­trac­tors with a trans­par­ent bid­ding process. India an­nu­aly has 1.70 lakh Haj devo­tees.

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