The Haj subsidy is an airfare subsidy given to Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims. Since 1973, pilgrims applying through the Haj Committee of India are offered a concessionary fare on Air India. As of 2011, an estimated 100,000 Indian Muslim make use of the subsidy.
The Haj subsidy was established in 1973, when the Indian government abolished sea travel as a means of making the Hajj; to compensate, the government began subsidising the difference between sea and air fares.
Since 1994 the round trip cost to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has been fixed at 12000 (US$200) per pilgrim, and the government has footed the rest of the bill. In 2007 the government spent 47454 (US$790) per passenger. In the year 2009 the cost was 8.26 billion (US$140 million).
|Year||Hajis sent on subsidy||Subsidy paid by the government|
|2007||–||5.95 billion (US$99 million)|
|2008||–||7.7 billion (US$130 million)|
|2009||121,695||8647.7 million (US$140 million)|
In 2008, the Supreme Court of India decided to permit the Haj subsidy to continue, citing the example of the subsidies (Rs200 per person) provided for pilgrims to Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. The order was in response to Public Interest Litigation seeking to end Haj subsidies by declaring government funding of pilgrimages outside India to be unconstitutional.
In 2010, In response to an RTI filed by an activist, the Ministry of External Affairs said that The Haj subsidy is being provided from year 1991, and in the period 2005–2010 and a total of 640,792 Muslims in India have availed Haj subsidy on a total cost of 28917.7 million (US$480 million) from the national exchequer.In the year 2008–09 a total of 121,695 Muslims from all over India had availed Haj subsidy, and a total of 8647.7 million (US$140 million)had been spent with an average amount of 70238 (US$1,200) spent on each person.
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 will be ended completely. (Instead, “a premium would be charged from better-off Hajis to cross-subsidise the travel cost for the less well-off Hajis”.)
The Centre had informed the Supreme Court that it had decided to restrict Haj pilgrimage at government subsidy to Muslims only as a "once in a lifetime" affair as against the existing policy of "once in five years". In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the government said the new guidelines have been framed to ensure that priority is given to those applicants who have never performed Haj. The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by the Centre challenging a Bombay high court judgement which had directed the Ministry of External Affairs to allow certain private operators to operate the services of 800 of the 11,000 pilgrims earmarked under the VIP quota subsidised by the government. Earlier, the bench had pulled up the Centre's practice of "politicising" the annual Haj pilgrimage by permitting official delegations to accompany the pilgrims, for which the government offers huge subsidy, saying, "It's a bad religious practice." On 27 July 2012, the Supreme Court declined Centre's request to defer till next year its 23 July order down sizing the government's discretionary quota to 300 from the proposed 5,050 seats and had hoped these would be alloted on "reasonable basis".
Considerable criticism has been levelled against this practice, both by Hindu organisations opposed to state funding of private pilgrimage outside India and by Muslim pressure groups. As an example of the latter, Mohib Ahmad contends that even Air India's subsidised fare is higher than competing airlines' ordinary fare. However, the government has continued offering the Haj subsidy despite protests from the Muslim community at large. Syed Shahabuddin claims that Air India's rising costs for travel, and the consequent increases in the Government of India's subsidy, have resulted partly from differences in foreign exchange rates beyond the airline's control. He suggests charter fares should be set at two-thirds of regular IATA fares, but points out that the Haj has higher costs than other charters because two empty flights are required to return the aircraft to India and to position the aircraft in Arabia for the pilgrims' return journey. Shahabuddin maintains that the subsidy ought to be phased out because Hindus view the subsidy as preferential treatment of India's Muslim minority.Zafarul Islam Khan states that,"Muslims in general are not in favour of the Hajj subsidy. We consider the subsidy as a subsidy to Air India and not to the Muslim community."
Other Muslim leaders have argued that the Hajj subsidy is "un-Islamic" and that Hajj money should be invested in education and health instead. Maulana Mahmood A. Madani, a member of the Rajya Sabha and general secretary of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, declared that the Hajj subsidy is a technical violation of Islamic Sharia, since the Koran declares that Hajj should be performed by Muslims using their own resources. Influential Muslim lobbies in India have regularly insisted that the Hajj subsidy should be phased out as it is UnIslamic. Likewise, Hindu groups argue that a government sponsored Hajj subsidy forcibly taxes Hindus to pay for Muslim religious pilgrimages, and is tantamount to appeasement of Islam.
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