Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi flagged off the first batch of Haj pilgrims from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on Sunday.
This is the first year when Haj pilgrimage is taking place without being provided any subsidy, the Minority Affairs Minister said.
Besides Maharashtra, pilgrims from Madhya Pradesh were also among those who left from Mumbai.
“The Union government, in co-operation with the Saudi Arabia Haj Consulate, Haj Committee of India and other agencies concerned, completed preparations for Haj 2018 well before time to ensure a smooth pilgrimage,” he said.
In January this year, Naqvi had said the Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in accordance with a Supreme Court order.
He said that even after withdrawal of the subsidy, the expenditure incurred on the pilgrimage has come down.
“Even after ending the subsidy for Haj, Rs 57 crore less is being paid to (various) airlines this year for pilgrims going through the Haj Committee of India,” he said.
Last year, Rs 1,030 crore was paid to various airlines for the fares of 1,24,852 Haj pilgrims, whereas this year, Rs 973 crore will be paid for 1,28,702 pilgrims going through the Haj Committee of India.
This means, Rs 57 crore less is being paid to airlines this year even after ending the subsidy, he said.
The subsidy is generally provided to benefit the travel agents, he added.
“A record 1,75,025 Muslims from India are going to Haj this year, that too without any additional financial burden.
“The number includes 47 per cent female travellers. For the first time, 1,308 Muslim women from India are going for Haj without ‘mehram’ (male companion),” Naqvi said.
Every year, some Haj officers are also sent along with the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. This year, a couple of hundred women officers are going to accompany pilgrims. This is also happening for the first time, as till last year only male officers used to travel to Saudi Arabia, the minister said.
To a query, Naqvi said the government has floated a tender for allowing Haj journey from Mumbai to Jeddah by ships, which will make the travel more economical.
It will take a longer time but expenses will be less and more Muslims can travel from India, he said.
Several rounds of talks have taken place with officials and ministers concerned and the Saudi government, he said, adding that the first ship is expected to leave next year from Mumbai.