Draft proposal to abolish Haj subsidy
It also suggested that women undertake the pilgrimage without male relatives
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.