Subsidy given to thousands of Haj pilgrims each year will be scrapped, the government announced today, saying the big move would help empower Muslims with dignity. "We believe in empowerment without appeasement," said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is Minister for Minority Affairs.
The minister said a record 1.75 lakh Muslims would go on the Haj pilgrimage this year even after the subsidy is withdrawn.
"Muslims didn't benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls," Mr Naqvi said.
Mr Naqvi also said that the Saudi Arabian government had agreed to allow people to go on the Haj by ships, which are cheaper than flights. Officials of the two countries would together finalise the arrangement.
The minister had said earlier that the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in keeping with a Supreme Court order in 2012.
"A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime, directed that the Haj 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 Haj subsidy gradually," he had said.
In October 2017, Naqvi had said the next Haj pilgrimage would be in line with the new policy, which he described as "better, transparent and one ensuring the safety of pilgrims". In 2012, the Supreme Court had struck down the policy of giving subsidies to Haj pilgrims and directed that it be progressively "eliminated" within ten years.
"We hold that this policy is best done away with," a bench of justices Altamas Kabir and Ranjana Prakash Desai had held.
According to The Hindu, the review committee on the Haj services had decided to end the subsidy in early 2018 during a meeting in November 2017. The panel comprised seniors officials of the Ministry for Minority Affairs, Civil Aviation Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs and the Haj Committee of India.
“The decision is in consonance with the Supreme Court order... Subsidy is only one aspect of the government’s responsibility with regard to Haj, we are committed to a more transparent and open system for sending pilgrims and their safety and security while they perform the pilgrimage,” Naqvi was then quoted as saying by The Hindu.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs had asked a panel to review the Haj policy and suggest a framework for a new policy for 2018-22. Its report was submitted in October.
Days ago, the government had also allowed Muslim women above 45 to go on Haj without a male guardian, in a group of at least four.
Ending subsidy and allowing older women to travel without male companions were among the recommendations of the panel headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah.