Indian Govt. withdraws Haj subsidy, says will use funds to ’empower minorities’

The government has withdrawn the subsidy it offers for Haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, from this year, four years ahead of a deadline suggested by the Supreme Court in a 2012 order, and in keeping with its stated philosophy of “empowering” minorities, not “appeasing” them.

It was announced by minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday. This year’s Haj commences on August 19.The government does not offer a direct subsidy to pilgrims but bankrolls a part of the total airfare, which is paid directly to airlines, including Air India. This is usually the difference between Haj-season fares determined through tenders and a uniform ticket price fixed for all pilgrims.The pilgrims pay for their board, lodging, and travel in Saudi Arabia. In May 2012, the Supreme Court, said the subsidy was best done away with. It also asked the central government to progressively reduce the subsidy amount with a view to completely abolish it by 2022. The NDA government had also set up a committee to review existing Haj policies. This committee too recommended abolition of the subsidy.

About 1.75 lakh pilgrims have applied for this year’s pilgrimage even without the subsidy, Naqvi said, while 1300 women will travel in groups of four without a male companion, the first time this is being allowed.

The minister added that the government, which spent around Rs 500 crore on its last Haj subsidy bill would like to the money to be used for educational empowerment and welfare of girls from minority communitiesbeing used for educating girls.

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