The Modi government’s decision to withdraw Haj subsidy has received flak from the Muslim community. Though, a big part of Muslim population appeared to be positive about the govt decision as they favoured the welfare of community over Haj subsidy. But, according to many, Haj pilgrims didn’t receive any benefit from the subsidy and it was meant for bailing out Air India which is incurring heavy losses. They questioned the timing of the government’s decision to abolish the subsidy when Supreme Court had asked the government to withdraw it in a phased manner by 2022. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said that the government was merely deceiving Muslims as they were not granted any concession while travelling for Haj pilgrimage. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Party president Asaduddin Owaisi stated that the government was only trying to appease Hindus prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by abolishing the subsidy. Some outfits asked that will government stop offering financial grant for pilgrimage undertaken by people belonging to other religions. Lump sum amount is spent by the centre for organising four Kumbh melas held in Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. The centre had incurred an expenditure of Rs 11.5 billion on the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad whereas the Maharashtra government had spent 25 million for the Nashik kumbh.
Abu Azmi, Samajwadi Party MLA asked why the government took this decision in haste when the deadline for ending Haj subsidy is 2022. He said, “The grant for subsidy was around Rs 700 crore initially which has now been reduced to Rs 200 crore in 2017. According to Islam, Haj is compulsory for those who can afford to go for it so that they need not borrow money from anyone.”
Azmi further stated that the subsidy was just an eyewash and it was meant for bailing out Air India. “Why should the government decide about which airline people will travel for Haj pilgrimage? Muslims should have the liberty to book air tickets at cheap rates for undertaking the pilgrimage. The government must scrap subsidy offered to other religions and utilise the amount for the welfare of farmers and development work,” he added.
Alhaj Shaikh Ebrahim Gulam Nabi, Former Chairman of Maharashtra State Haj Committee said that despite the Haj Committee urging the government to refrain from ending Haj subsidy this year, the government had gone ahead with its decision to eliminate it. He said, “The government has abolished Haj subsidy this year itself when it had received orders from the Supreme Court to gradually end it by 2022. The expected Haj subsidy for pilgrims in 2017 was Rs 380 crore but the government had allotted only Rs 200 crore. Haj pilgrims had derived benefit from the subsidy granted to them. Haj Committee had requested the government to float global tender allowing other airlines to carry Haj pilgrims but they turned a blind eye towards it.”
When asked about the government’s plan to use the money saved through abolition of Haj subsidy for development work he replied, “The government already have enough funds for carrying out welfare activities. According to me the government should continue to offer subsidies to pilgrimage activities of every religion. The government has allocated huge funds for the construction of Shivaji memorial in Arabian Sea. The Haj Committee had sought government’s permission for buying a chartered plane. We had planned to use the plane on lease for 10 months and for undertaking Haj pilgrimage for two months but we received no feedback from the government.”
Nawab Malik, NCP spokesperson said, “After the Supreme Court order Haj subsidy was definitely going to be scrapped by 2022. Haj pilgrims never benefitted out of the subsidy and it was meant to keep the Air India afloat. I don’t think Muslims will face any hardship due to the withdrawal of the subsidy. If the government is really concerned about the welfare of Muslims then the government must first offer reservation to them as per the directive issued by the Bombay High Court.”
On the other hand, the government defended the stand taken by it on Haj subsidy and said that it was meant for empowering the Muslim community without appeasement. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the money saved will be utilised for providing education to minorities. Naqvi added that despite the abolishment of subsidy, 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake pilgrimage this year. The minister also said that efforts are being taken by government to reduce the cost of travel by Haj pilgrims. He said the Saudi government has permitted Indians to go to Haj via sea route.