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PIL alleges graft in Haj affairs
|New Delhi: Contrary to the general perception that the Muslim community in the country is being pampered by government, particularly on the issue of subsidy to Hajis, benefits of the largesse do not reach the pilgrims but are usurped by government machinery and the committee appointed by it.
The Kul-Hind Tanzeem Khuddamul Hujjaj, a Delhi-based organisation of Muslims engaged in providing help and guidance to Haj pilgrims, has alleged misappropriation of funds by the government agencies, the Central Haj Committee (CHC)and state Haj Committees in the name of Haj. It has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court against the Union of India and chairman of Central Haj Committee, demanding a CBI inquiry. The case is before the division bench of Justice Anil Dev Singh and Justice Mukul Mudgal.
Mohammad Yunus, general secretary of the organisation which has filed the petition, alleges that "more than Rs.111 crore has been siphoned off by the Central Haj Committee in the year 2001-2002 alone." It said that the benefit of nearly Rs.150 crore subsidy did not reach the beneficiaries.
The 16-member CHC is a statutory body looking after travel and accommodation arrangements for Haj pilgrims. Its chairman Tanveer Ahmad is a member of Bharatiya Janata Party.
Mohammad Yunus told MG, " a return ticket to Jeddah costs Rs. 21,000. But the civil aviation ministry, which provides to Hajis Air India planes, charges Rs 32,606 for the same ticket. Of this Rs. 20,606 comes from the Haj subsidy. The ministry thus made a neat Rs. 33 crore on 70,236 tickets issued last year."
Showing a copy of the IATA-approved return air fare from New Delhi to Jeddah, Mohammad Yunus said air ticket to and from Jeddah costs Rs.20,500, but is likely to be enhanced artificially to around 28,000 during Haj season. Even then it is not Rs. 32,606 as charged by the civil aviation ministry. The air fare of Rs.27,800 during the Haj is also an administered rate as in Haj season, Air India and Saudi Airlines enhance airfare "with malafide intent" and in connivance with the Haj Committee.
The PIL alleges that the Haj committee also makes RS 28 crore on the foreign exchange it gives to pilgrims. "Each pilgrim is allowed 5,000 Saudi riyal for miscellaneous expenses. The committee makes them pay Rs 13.30 per riyal when the prevalent exchange rate is 12.50. In the bargain each Haji pays an extra Rs 4,000." It alleges that 97 riyal is collected from each Haji as bus fare from Medina to Jeddah but 16,000 Hajis fly direct from Medina to India. Hence 97 riyal is saved per Haji, which is misappropriated by the CHC. The Hajis who visit Medina after Haj have to pay 60 riyal less. Last year 40,000 Haijs visited Medina after the Haj. They were also charged this amount, which was misappropriated by the CHC.
The PIL also alleges discrepancies in renting accommodation in Makkah. It says first class buildings for accommodation of Hajis in Makkah are easily available for 1,700 riyal but the committee hires these for 2,100 riyal. Similarly, in Medina 50-100 riyal extra for hiring the building is shown to have been paid in excess.
The petitioner advocate Mrs. Rana Siddiqui says a whopping Rs. 145 crore in a year doled out by the government for the benefit of Haj pilgrims is in fact devoured by the persons sitting at the helm of the committee. "This is a much bigger scam than the many other much publicised scams which come to light," she says. A CBI inquiry is required to unearth the scam and other misdeeds of CHC, Siddiqui asserts.
Meanwhile, civil aviation minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain has denied any irregularities on the part of his ministry and said that the allegations are against CHC. About the air fare he said no Haji can complain since he is paying only, 12000, the rest comes from government subsidy. "If government money goes to government, they should not make a furore over it," Hussain argues.
¯ Andalib Akhter