Haj subsidy scrapped: SC had called for phase out in 2012
The decision of the Modi government to phase out Haj subsidy will not give the NDA government brownie points, just like it did with its decision to allow Muslim women above 45 years to go for Haj without a male guardian. In fact, the government cannot take credit for either phasing out the subsidy nor the more liberal rules for women travellers. Credit for the first goes to the Supreme Court of India and for the other to Saudi Arabia.
The Supreme Court has already given May 8, 2022, as the deadline to phase out Haj subsidy. Thus, when minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told ‘The Indian Express’ newsroom during ‘Idea Exchange’ last week that the subsidy had been withdrawn, he was merely reiterating a decision that had already been made and for which the process started.
The subsidy, which stood at Rs 685 crore in 2011 is down to Rs 200 crore in 2017. It seems as if the phasing out will happen even ahead of schedule.
READ | Govt scraps Haj subsidy, says will use funds to ’empower minorities’
On May 8, 2012, a Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice Aftab Alam, while passing an order on the eligibility of private tour operators (PTOs) to take pilgrims to the holy shrine of Mecca, had quoted extensively from the Quran to justify the discontinuation subsidy. The Bench held that “a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Haj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage and if all the facts are made known a good many of the pilgrims would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Haj is funded to a substantial extent by the Government.” “We, therefore, direct the Central Government to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it within a period of 10 years from today. The subsidy money may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development,” reads the order.
The subsequent phasing out plan that was arrived at, was also endorsed by the report of the Afzal Amanullah Committee that came in October last year. “It is advisable that the existing subsidy reduction plan be followed,” reads the report. Certainly, the government also wants to reduce costs, which is why it now wants to revive the sea route to Jeddah for Haj pilgrims. The government has flaunted the increase of India’s Haj quota to 175,000 this year. But the truth is, that number has been steadily going up as had been the subsidy before the court order in 2012.
In 1994, the number of pilgrims going for Haj from India was as low as 21,035, in 2011, the number of pilgrims increased to 1,25,000. In 1994, the cost of travel per pilgrim was only Rs 1,700. In 2011, it went up to Rs 54,800. As a result, the total Hajj subsidy that was Rs 10.51 crores in 1994 swelled up to Rs 685 crores in the year 2011.