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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Opposition flays government’s revised Haj policy
By Andalib Akhter

New Delhi: The opposition parties have strongly criticised the government’s revised Haj policy, particularly the timing of its implementation. They have urged the government to immediately withdraw the restrictions imposed on would be Hajis in the new policy. Several leaders have also accused the government of ‘playing with the religious sentiment’ of the Muslim at a time when Haj is round the corner. For them the BJP has come out with a hidden agenda through the revised Haj policy.

Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha the Muslim league member of parliament E Ahmad said the government has put the restriction on subsidy for the Hajis when they have already packed their bags for the pilgrimage according to the existing rules of the Haj policy. "At the time when pilgrims were packing their bags for Haj, the government’s restrictive policy will force many of them to change their programme" he said. Currently about 72,000 people have registered themselves for Haj through the Central Haj Committee.

The government in its revised Haj policy, which was circulated recently pronounced - (i) The subsidized Haj fare is permitted for each pilgrim only once in his/her life time from Haj 2004 onwards (ii) No income tax payer is allowed to avail of the Subsidised fare from Haj 2004 onwards, iii) Only those pilgrims who live in the accommodation provided by Haj Committee would be eligible for the subsidized fare; iv) The subsidized fare would be kept at the existing level of Rs.12, 000 for Haj 2004 and the subsidy may be reduced in a phased manner in subsequent years. Government has also directed that an affidavit be obtained from the pilgrims to the effect that they have not availed the subsidized Haj fare earlier and that they are not income tax payees.

Ahmad asked the government to immediately withdraw the restrictions so that the pilgrims could go to Haj without any hindrances. Former chief minister of Pondicherry M O H Farooq said the central Haj committee was not consulted before formalisng the revised policy. Farooq is a member of the committee. He said he talked to the minister for civil aviation and the minister assured him of a discussion on the matter in the cabinet.

Talking to this corespondent CPM MP Hannan Mullah termed the government move as a step taken in haste. "This has been done to harass innocent Hajis" he appealed to the government to withdraw the circular , at least for Haj 2004.

The president of the Muslim league, G M Banatwala told this correspondent that the government move will create severe difficulties for women and the poorer section of Muslims. He was particularly critical of the section of the revised policy which says that only those pilgrims who live in the accommodation provided by Haj Committee would be eligible for the subsidized fare. "this restriction is highly objectionable and should be withdrawn immediately" he appealed. He also said that he met prime minister Vajpyee twice in this regard but could not get a positive response from him.

The National Commission for Minorities has also appealed to the government to take back the revised Haj policy. In a statement the NCM chairman Tarlochan Singh said the implementation of the new policy at this juncture will create problem for the would be Hajis. In a letter to the prime minister he urged him to withdraw the restriction at least for this year. 

Meanwhile minister of state for civil aviation Rajiv Pratap Rudi in a statement in the Lok Sabha said, the total provisional cost of operation of Haj flights during the year 2003 is estimated at Rs. 225.83 crores which includes a provisional amount of subsidy of Rs. 151.29 crores. "The new policy is aimed at encouraging more deserving people to avail the benefit" he said in a reply to a question by Vilas Mutteshwar in Lok Sabha. 
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