Focus

Who needs Haj subsidy?

The so-called "Haj Subsidy" started in around 1974 when Govt. of India stopped pilgrims from travelling by sea and insisted that only air travel mode should be used by the Indian pilgrims going to Mecca on Haj. This was a government decision; no Muslim individual or organisation had demanded it. As a gesture, the government started paying the small difference between the sea and air fares.

Initially, a very small amount was paid out but the so-called "subsidy" kept growing as both airfares and the numbers of pilgrims kept growing. Last year (2011) 1,25,051 pilgrims went for Haj from India. By 2007, the amount of the subsidy had gone up to Rs. 595 crore, and in 2008 it rose to Rs. 770 crore. The government policy since 1994 has been that it will pay any amount in excess of Rs. 12,000 per pilgrim. This applied only to the pilgrims going through the Haj Committee, a Govt. of India organisation fully controlled by the Central government. Pilgrims going through private tour operators or privately did not qualify for this benefit.

Over the years, communal Hindu individuals and organisations agitated against this "appeasement". The Central government  decided last year to decrease this subsidy gradually and end it by 2017. It was also proposed that the subsidy would be given only to the poor pilgrims once in a lifetime.

Now, the Supreme Court on 9 May has ordered the government to do away with this subsidy in ten years and also to restrict the numbers of the Indian Haj Delegation which was a backdoor means for the government to send its favourite Muslims free of charge putting their burden on the poor pilgrims. Over the years this official delegation crossed a hundred pilgrims who do nothing for the pilgrims while in Mecca and Medina; rather they are a sheer burden on the local consulate staff, stay in 5-star hotels and use luxury cars while the poor pilgrims are herded in far away buildings.

The co-called "subsidy" was never given to the pilgrims but to Air India, which according to the Haj Act, monopolises the carriage of the Indian pilgrims and the "subsidy" is paid to it directly. Air India charges fares much above the prevailing market rates. Last year, while you could buy a Delhi-Jeddah-Delhi economy class ticket for around Rs. 18,000, Air India charged pilgrims Rs. 62,000 and pocketed the difference from the govt.

We demand that this subsidy is stopped right away and the Haj Committee is authorised to float international tenders to obtain best air fares for the Indian pilgrims, which, we believe, will be quite close to the prevailing market rates. This will end this charade of a subsidy which actually is a subsidy to the sick Air India which has just received a whopping bailout amount of Rs. 30,000 crore from the government.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2012 on page no. 1

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