In what can be called as a move to empower the minorities, the Central government has on January 16, 2018 withdrawn subsidy for Haj pilgrims and will use the funds for educational empowerment of girls and women of minority community.
“The central government has decided to withdraw subsidy given to Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage,” Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, adding, “This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement."
The decision to withdraw subsidy comes a day after the government allowed Muslim women pilgrims, above age of 45, to go on haj without male guardian.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs had last year constituted a committee to review the existing Haj policy and had suggested a framework for a new Haj policy for 2018-22.
Naqvi also informed that over 1.75 lakh pilgrims for the first time in independent India will go to Haj without a subsidy. This is a rise from the 1.25 lakh pilgrims those who went for the annual pilgrimage last year.
Saying that the Saudi Arabian government has agreed to allow Haj journey from India by ships, he said officials of the two countries will sit together to finalise the modalities.
“The Saudi Arabian government has agreed to allow Indians to go on Haj by the sea route and officials of the two countries will work out the modalities,” he said.
In total, there are 21 Haj embarkation points in the country such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Cochin, Indore, Srinagar, Bhopal, Guwahati, Mangaluru, Aurangabad, Varanasi, Jaipur, Nagpur, Ranchi, Gaya, Ahmedabad and Goa.
"To offset the cost hike, we have for the first time given the choice to pilgrims to select their point of embarkation. So, for example, a pilgrim from Srinagar may now embark from Delhi, or a pilgrim from Gaya may embark from Kolkata, to avoid extra expenses," Naqvi said.
The government was giving subsidy to Muslim Haj pilgrims in the form of discounted fares on Air India. The subsidy includes assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, medical cares, lodging assistance and meal.
The minister, however, said that the government would fulfil all its responsibilities towards its citizens and make all the arrangements for the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia apart from ensuring their safety, security and comfort.
As per media reports, the Centre had in 2016 spent Rs 405 crore as subsidy for the Haj pilgrims. In 2014, the subsidy was Rs 577.07 crore and in the following year, it was reduced to Rs 529.51 crore.
According to reports, 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.