Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

GOVT ENDS HAJ SUB­SIDY, SAYS WILL USE ₹500CR FOR ED­U­CA­TION

Govt says will use ₹500 crore for ed­u­ca­tion; holy trip mecca will com­mence on Au­gust 19 this year

- Zia Haq zia.haq@htlive.com Politics · New Delhi · Delhi · Mecca · Supreme Court of India · Bharatiya Janata Party · Janata Party · Bharatiya Janata Party · India · Air India · Saudi Arabia · Lok Sabha · Iranian Parliament · Haryana · Haryana · Dera Sacha Sauda · Narendra Modi · Karnataka · Indian National Congress · Bihar · Malaysia · National Democratic Alliance · Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi · Asaduddin Owaisi · All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen · Ghulam Nabi Azad · Rashtriya Janata Dal · Janata Dal · Rajya Sabha · K. Rahman Khan

NEW DELHI: The gov­ern­ment has with­drawn the sub­sidy it of­fers for Haj, the an­nual Mus­lim pil­grim­age to Mecca, from this year, four years ahead of a dead­line sug­gested by the Supreme Court in a 2012 or­der, and in keep­ing with its stated phi­los­o­phy of “em­pow­er­ing” mi­nori­ties, not “ap­peas­ing” them. The scrap­ping of the sub­sidy evoked a strong re­ac­tion from many of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance’s ri­vals.

NEW DELHI: The gov­ern­ment has with­drawn the sub­sidy it of­fers for Haj, the an­nual Mus­lim pil­grim­age to Mecca, from this year, four years ahead of a dead­line sug­gested by the Supreme Court in a 2012 or­der, and in keep­ing with its stated phi­los­o­phy of “em­pow­er­ing” mi­nori­ties, not “ap­peas­ing” them.

The scrap­ping of the sub­sidy evoked a strong re­ac­tion from many of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance’s ri­vals. It was an­nounced by mi­nor­ity af­fairs min­is­ter Mukhtar Ab­bas Naqvi on Tues­day.

This year’s Haj com­mences on Au­gust 19.

The gov­ern­ment does not of­fer a di­rect sub­sidy to pil­grims but bankrolls a part of the total air­fare, which is paid di­rectly to air­lines, in­clud­ing Air In­dia.

This is usu­ally the dif­fer­ence be­tween Haj-sea­son fares de­ter­mined through ten­ders and a uni­form ticket price fixed for all pil­grims.

The pil­grims pay for their board, lodg­ing, and travel in Saudi Ara­bia.

In May 2012, the Supreme Court, said the sub­sidy was best done away with. It also asked the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to pro­gres­sively re­duce the sub­sidy amount with a view to com­pletely abol­ish it by 2022.

The NDA gov­ern­ment had also set up a com­mit­tee to re­view ex­ist­ing Haj poli­cies. This com­mit­tee too rec­om­mended abo­li­tion of the sub­sidy.

About 1.75 lakh pil­grims have ap­plied for this year’s pil­grim­age even with­out the sub­sidy, Naqvi said, while 1300 women will travel in groups of four with­out a male com­pan­ion, the first time this is be­ing al­lowed.

“We are also ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of Haj through sea routes,” Naqvi said.

The min­is­ter added that the gov­ern­ment, which spent around Rs 500 crore on its last Haj sub­sidy bill would like to the money be­ing used for ed­u­cat­ing girls.

The gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion drew mixed re­ac­tions from op­po­si­tion par­ties. Lok Sabha MP Asadud­din Owaisi, the leader of All-In­dia Ma­jlis-e-It­te­hadul Mus­limeen party said he had been de­mand­ing with­drawal of the Haj sub­sidy since 2006 but didn’t quite agree with the gov­ern­ment’s logic.

“Why did Haryana gov­ern­ment give Rs 1 Crore to Dera Sacha Sauda? Was it for elec­toral ap­pease­ment? Why did the Modi gov­ern­ment give grant of ₹100 crore to the MP gov­ern­ment for Simhastha Maha Kumbh on which the lat­ter spent ₹3,400 crore. The Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment is giv­ing ₹20,000 to each Hindu pil­grims for Char Dham. So is this not ap­pease­ment of the ma­jor­ity?” he asked.

Congress leader Ghu­lam Nabi Azad said the gov­ern­ment had with­drawn the sub­sidy four years ahead of the date pre­scribed by the Supreme Court and added that his party hopes that the gov­ern­ment would also fol­low the sec­ond part of the judge­ment. Azad was re­fer­ring to the SC’s rec­om­men­da­tion that the money should be used to pro­vide mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion for girls from mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.

Bi­har Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesper­son Ejya Ya­dav said the Cen­tre’s de­ci­sion to dis­con­tinue sub­sidy in the Haj pil­grim­age was an “un­fair de­ci­sion” as, he said, it would de­prive a large num­ber of lower in­come group pil­grims of an op­por­tu­nity to visit the Mecca.

There are two main cat­e­gories of travel. In the so-called Green cat­e­gory, the top tier, a pil­grim pays ₹1,81,200 plus ₹37,800 to­wards per­sonal ex­penses, which works out to ₹219,000. In the next cat­e­gory called Az­izia, the charges are ₹1,47,200 plus ₹37,800 to­wards per­sonal ex­penses, to­tal­ing ₹185,000. Of this, nearly ₹38000 is a de­posit of sorts and is re­funded to pil­grims.

The pre­vi­ous UPA gov­ern­ment had con­sti­tuted a com­mit­tee headed by the Cab­i­net sec­re­tary to go into the is­sue of an al­ter­na­tive fi­nanc­ing op­tion for Haj. The then Ra­jya Sabha deputy chair­man K. Rah­man Khan led a team that had pro­posed that In­dia adopt Malaysia’s Tabung Haji model as an al­ter­na­tive.

IN MAY 2012, SC SAID SUB­SIDY WAS BEST DONE AWAY WITH; IT ALSO ASKED CEN­TRE TO PRO­GRES­SIVELY RE­DUCE THE SUB­SIDY AMOUNT WITH A VIEW TO COM­PLETELY ABOL­ISH IT BY 2022

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