Centre ends Hajj subsidy; Says will use funds to ’empower’ minorities
New Delhi, Jan 16: In a big move, the government on Tuesday withdrew subsidy for Hajj pilgrims. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi made this announcement. The minister added that “Hajj subsidy funds will be used for educational empowerment of girls and women of minority community.” He also told reporters that despite the subsidy withdrawal, a record number of 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage this year.
The decision to abolish Hajj subsidy comes day after government allowed Muslim women, above the age of 45, to go on Hajj without male guardian, in a group of at least four. The Ministry of Minority Affairs had, last year, constituted a committee to review the existing Hajj policy and suggest a framework for a new Hajj policy for 2018-22.
Naqvi also said that the Saudi Arabian government has in principle agreed to allow Hajj journey from India by ships and officials of the two countries will sit together to finalise the modalities. “This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi told reporters and cited a host of measures for the welfare of minorities.
Last year, Naqvi had said that the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Hajj pilgrims in accordance with a Supreme Court order.
“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime in 2012, directed that the Hajj subsidy be done away with. Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Hajj subsidy gradually,” he had said.
The Hajj subsidy is given to Muslim Hajjj pilgrims by the government in form of discounted fares on Air India. It also includes assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Hajj departure airport terminals, medical cares, lodging assistance and meal. The subsidy program has its origins in British colonial era. In 2008, the total subsidy provided by the government was US$1,815 per Muslim pilgrim.
Days ago, the government had also allowed Muslim women above 45 to go on Haj without male company, in a group of at least four. Earlier, women were not allowed to travel without “Mehram”- male relatives they can never marry, like brothers or fathers.
Ending subsidy and allowing older women to travel without male guardians were among the recommendations of the panel, headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah.
Haj subsidy, besides cheaper fare on national carrier Air India, also includes help to pilgrims provided by the government to reach specially-designed Haj departure terminals at airports, food and medical care.