Thousands of Muslims who go on Haj pilgrimage each year will no longer get subsidised or cheaper air tickets. The Union government finally has withdrawn Haj Subsidy being given to Muslims annually. Every year, the Central government will save around Rs 700 crore in subsidy and the same funds would be used for Muslim girl child education. The big move would help empower Muslims with dignity. One should believe in empowerment without appeasement.
The Haj subsidy traces its origins to the British colonial era. In 1932, the British colonial government enacted The Port Haj Committees Act, which provided for government funded Haj Committee and named Bombay and Calcutta as two embarkation points for Haj by Muslims in British India. Along with Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, the Haj Committees Act was one of a series of laws passed by the British colonial government to address Muslim demands in a riot torn, pre-partition South Asia. Then the colonial government also granted a monopoly for sea-based Haj pilgrimage by South Asian Muslims to Mogul Line ships, owned by the British company Turner Morrison & Co. Ltd.
In 1959, Indian government repealed and replaced the 1932 Act, enacting Haj Committee Act, to establish a Committee in the Port of Bombay for assisting Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan and for matters connected therewith. The purpose of this Act was to manage all affairs of pilgrims like disseminating information, to negotiate travel arrangements, arranging guides, helping the needy and to address grievances of pilgrims.
The Haj subsidy was modified in 1973, when the Indian government abolished sea travel as a means of making the Haj for two reasons — rising oil prices after formation of OPEC and a ship accident that killed 39 pilgrims in June 1973 during the government managed Haj trip. The government of India replaced the means of travel to Saudi Arabia from ships to aircraft. The government simultaneously increased the subsidy to cover the difference between sea and airfares.
With the changing time and many amendments, the Ministry of Civil Aviation started providing subsidy for air travel to the pilgrims through the Haj Committee of India. The amount on air travel charged per pilgrim during Haj 2014 was Rs 35,000 whereas the actual air fare ranged from Rs 63,750 to Rs 1,63,350 depending on the embarkation point in India which were always higher than normal charges of air tickets. For Haj-2015, an amount of Rs 42,000 was charged as airfare from each pilgrim performing Haj through HCOI. The subsidy amount was Rs 836.56 crores in 2012 to Rs 680.03 crores in 2013. In 2014, it had further reduced to Rs 533 crores.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of India ordered that Haj subsidy must end by 2022. The Supreme Court found that Haj by Indian Muslims is funded to a substantial extent by the Indian Government. The Court ruled that this subsidy is not only unconstitutional but also inconsistent with the teachings of Quran. The Court cited Quran verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran ordains as under: “In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security. And Haj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence); and whoever disbelieves [i.e. denies Haj (pilgrimage to Makkah), then he is a disbeliever of Allah], then Allah stands not in need of any of the Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists).”
The Supreme Court, in its 2012 order, said that the Centre should invest that amount in education and other development measures for the minority community, also directed the Indian government to stop providing Haj subsidies to Muslims identified by central government as very important person (VIP), very very important person (VVIP), and the special dignitaries and eminent persons nominations of 3,000 Muslims per year under so-called Goodwill Delegation to Saudi Arabia.
In August 2010, the Minority Affairs Ministry formally opposed providing subsidy for Haj pilgrimage, saying the scheme, was contrary to the teachings of Islam. The Government of India has proposed that starting from 2011, the amount of government subsidy per person will be decreased and by 2017, it will be eliminated completely.
Since 2000, over 1.5 million Muslims have used the subsidy; since 2008, over 120,000 Indian Muslim every year make use of the subsidy. The Haj subsidy includes an airfare subsidy as well as assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, meal, medical care and lodging assistance provided by the Government of India. In a Central Haj Committee meeting in November 2017, it was decided that Haj subsidy will be completely phased out in 2018 and funds will be utilised on educational programmes especially for girl children of the minority community. On January 16, 2018 Union minister for minority affairs said that the Haj subsidy has been completely taken off (Rs 700 crore) and this amount will be made used for educational purposes of the children belonging to minority. After Triple Talaq, indeed this was another strong move to say no to appeasement and move towards progress.
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