Afroz Alam Sahil and M. Reyaz, BeyondHeadlines
New Delhi: “The Muslim community has never asked for the subsidy that you give,” Rajya Sabha (upper house) Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan, who is also Congress party MP in the house from Karnataka, made this statement while speaking on the ‘working of the Ministry of Minority Affairs’. This was in connection with the subsidy given by the Ministry of External Affairs to the pilgrims who go to Saudi Arabia every year to perform hajj.
Haj subsidy is given primarily on “air fare.” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi called it “cross subsidisation to Air India.” Documents obtained by BeyondHeadlines (BH) through the Right to Information Act (RTI) reveal that a total of Rs 3,554.78 crores was spent on hajj subsidy in past 10 years. During 2008 and 2009 alone, the government spent Rs 854.77 crores, highest in a single year so far, on the hajj subsidy. In 2009-2010, it was reduced to Rs 690 crores.
Year wise break up of money spend
on Hajj Subsidy (Rs in crores)
A part of this money is also spent on the Hajj Goodwill Delegation send every year.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, national vice president of the minority wing of the Nationalist Congress Party, is suspicious of government’s intention. “If the community and its leaders are themselves demanding that subsidy should be abolished, why is the government so hesitant,” he asks. He further added that “public money should not be diverted to air lines.”
Prafull Goradia , former Rajya Sabha member from the BJP, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of the Haj Committee Act, which provides for subsidy. However, a bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra rejected the petition in January this year arguing “if we wish to keep our country united, we need to have tolerance and equal respect for all communities and sects.”
The apex court has further observed this is “very small expenditure in proportion to the entire tax collected.” It further pointed out that the respective state government incur expenditure to arrange for the Kumbh Mela (fair) or that the centre facilitates Indian citizens to go on pilgrimage to Mansarover.
However, documents available with BH reveal that the government “does not give any subsidy to pilgrims/yatris participating in the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra.” It, however, pays Rs 3,250 per pilgrim to “Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, an Uttarakhand Government authority, for making logistical arrangements for the pilgrims/Yatris while on the Indian side.”
|Year||Haj Committee of India
(No. of pilgrims actually traveled)
|Private tour Operators’ Quota|
(*excluding Fayz-e-Hussiani Trust, Mumbai)
Further, no such “goodwill delegation” is sent to Kailash Manasarover, although “a small official delegation (2-3 members) visits the Tibet Autonomous Region of China for inspecting the facilities available to the yatris going for Kailash Manasarovar once in 2-3 years.”
Hajj is compulsory only for those Muslims who can afford it, at least once in lifetime. While about Rs 1.25 lakh people go to perform official hajj or sarkari hajj on the government quota, roughly 45,000 go on their own though private operators.
Maulana Mahmood Madani, Rajya Sabha MP and general secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, recently said at the Jamiat headquarter that the government should “abolish” subsidy. He further suggested that the government should learn from the Malysian experience. In 1963, Malyaisa had introduced Lembaga Tabung Haji or the Malaysian Pilgrims Management Fund, which acts as “non-banking Islamic savings institution” to help prosective hajis save money.
K. Rahman Khan too suggested creation of a statutory “logistic corporation.”