Haj subsidy

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Indian Muslims in Lucknow on their way to Saudi Arabia, covered by Hajj subsidy

The Haj subsidy is a subsidy given to Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims by the Government of India. The program has its origins in British colonial era.[1] In post-colonial era, the Nehru government expanded the program in 1959 with the Hajj Act.[2] The subsidy and taxpayer funded arrangements initially applied to Muslim Indian pilgrims traveling for religious reasons to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan. Since 1973, pilgrims applying through the Haj Committee of India are offered a concessionary fare on Air India.[3]

Since 2000, over 1.5 million Muslims have used the subsidy; since 2008, over 120,000 Indian Muslim every year make use of the subsidy.[4] The Hajj subsidy includes an airfare subsidy as well as assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, meal, medical care and lodging assistance[5] provided by the Government of India.[6][7] The average airfare subsidy was about INR73526 (US$1,200) per Muslim pilgrim in 2008; while the average non-airfare financial assistance was INR2697 (US$44) per pilgrim.[4][5] The total subsidy provided by the Government of India was US$ 1,815 per Muslim pilgrim in 2008.

In May 2012, the Supreme Court of India ordered the government to end the practice by 2022.[8]

History[edit]

Pre-1947 British Raj era

The Haj subsidy traces its origins to the British colonial era. In 1932, the British colonial government enacted The Port Haj Committees Act, which provided for government funded Haj Committee and named Bombay and Calcutta as two embarkation points for Haj by Muslims in British India.[1] Along with Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, the Haj Committees Act was one of a series of laws passed by the British colonial government to address Muslim demands in a riot torn, pre-partition South Asia.[1][9][10] The colonial government also granted a monopoly for sea-based Haj pilgrimage by South Asian Muslims to Mogul Line ships, owned by the British company Turner Morrison & Co. Ltd.

Post-colonial era

In 1959, Indian government repealed and replaced the 1932 Act, enacting Haj Committee Act, which expanded the colonial era law, and allocated taxpayer funds to subsidize the cost incurred by Indian Muslim pilgrims to visit Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan. This act covered subsidy for private passengers as well as general expenses such as medical care staff, by sea, on a ship from or to the port of Bombay to or from any port in the Red Sea other than Suez.[2] The subsidy was then called the Haj subsidy. Article 16 of the 1959 law also created a taxpayer financed Haj Fund to cover overhead expenses.[2]

From sea travel to air travel

The Haj subsidy was modified in 1973, when the Indian government abolished sea travel as a means of making the Hajj for two reasons - rising oil prices after formation of OPEC and a ship accident that killed 39 pilgrims in June 1973 during the government managed Haj trip.[11] The government of India replaced the means of travel to Saudi Arabia from ships to aircraft. The government simultaneously increased the subsidy to cover the difference between sea and air fares.[8]

Since 1994 the round trip cost to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has been fixed at INR12000 (US$190) per pilgrim, and the government has footed the rest of the bill. In 2007 the government spent INR47454 (US$770) per passenger.[12] In the year 2009 the cost was INR8.26 billion (US$130 million).[13][14]

Hajj subsidy paid
Year Hajis sent on subsidy Subsidy paid by the government
2000 71,924 [citation needed]
2001 71,215 [citation needed]
2002 70,298 [citation needed]
2003 70,019 [citation needed]
2004 71,945 [citation needed]
2005 80,786 [citation needed]
2006 99,926 [citation needed]
2007 109,991[4] INR5.95 billion (US$96 million)[15]
2008 121,694[4] INR8.95 billion (US$140 million)[4]
2009 121,695 INR8647.7 million (US$140 million)
2010 126,191 [citation needed]
2011 125,051 [citation needed]
2012
Supreme Court order to abolish Haj subsidy

In 2012, the Supreme Court of India ordered that Haj subsidy must end by 2022.[16] The Supreme Court found that Hajj by Indian Muslims is funded to a substantial extent by the Indian Government. The Court ruled that this subsidy is not only unconstitutional but inconsistent with the teachings of Quran. The Court cited Quran verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran ordains as under: "In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqam (place) of Ibrahim (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security. And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence); and whoever disbelieves [i.e. denies Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), then he is a disbeliever of Allah], then Allah stands not in need of any of the Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists).”[16]

The Court directed the Central Government to progressively reduce the amount of Haj subsidy and abolish it by 2022. The Court, in its 2012 order, also directed the Indian government to stop providing Hajj subsidies to Muslims identified by central government as very important person (VIP), very very important person (VVIP), and the special dignitaries and eminent persons nominations of 3,000 Muslims per year under so-called Goodwill Delegation to Saudi Arabia.[16]

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”.)[17]

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".[18]

Criticism[edit]

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.[19] 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.[20] Shahabuddin maintains that the subsidy ought to be phased out because Hindus view the subsidy as preferential treatment of India's Muslim minority.[20]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."[8]

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.[21] Influential Muslim lobbies in India have regularly insisted that the Hajj subsidy should be phased out as it is UnIslamic.[22] 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.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c History of Haj Announcement India Government of Uttar Pradesh, India
  2. ^ a b c The Haj Committee Act, 1959 Government of India
  3. ^ Press Information Bureau, "Hajj operation in India 2006", December 2006. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e SHRI VAYALAR RAVI, SUBSIDY FOR HAJ PILGRIMAGE, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, MINISTRY OF CIVIL AVIATION, LOK SABHA - QUESTION NO 2125, March 2011
  5. ^ a b Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, LOK SABHA STARRED QUESTION 300 ANSWERED ON 16.03.2011, See ANNEXURES-I
  6. ^ Annual Report Ministry of External Affairs, India
  7. ^ Haj Assistant Travel Advertisement Ministry of Railways, Government of India, January 2014
  8. ^ a b c Achin, Kurt (10 May 2012). "India's Supreme Court Orders End to Hajj Subsidies". Voice of America. Retrieved 2012-05-10. 
  9. ^ Duncan and Derrett (1968), Religion, Law and the State in India, Free Press, New York
  10. ^ The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937; Universal Law Publishing, New Delhi; pp 3-7
  11. ^ Mogul Line History Ship List
  12. ^ Shauvik Ghosh, "Haj subsidy has Air India fuming", The Financial Express, 13 September 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2009
  13. ^ "Muslim leaders back cutting Haj subsidy". Hindustan Times. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  14. ^ "India: Hajj applications falling every year". Geo TV, Pakistan. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  15. ^ George, Daniel P. (17 June 2011). "Haj may cost less; new airline to carry pilgrims". The Times of India. Retrieved 2012-05-10. 
  16. ^ a b c SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO.28609 OF 2011 Supreme Court of India
  17. ^ Ranjan, Amitav (13 October 2010). "Haj subsidy cuts start soon". The India Express. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "SC says no to Centre's plea to relax Haj pilgrims quota order". The Times Of India. 27 July 2012. 
  19. ^ Mohib Ahmad, "Haj Subsidy, Anyone?", Indian Muslims blog, 18 January 2006. Retrieved 25 June 2009.
  20. ^ a b Syed Shahabuddin, "Haj subsidy is a fact and must go eventually", The Milli Gazette, 15 September 2002. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  21. ^ "'Haj subsidy unIslamic, use that money on our education, health'". The Indian Express. 17 November 2006. Retrieved 2012-05-10. 
  22. ^ "Muslim leaders back cutting Haj subsidy". Hindustan Times. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 2012-05-10. 
  23. ^ "Taxing Hindus for Haj subsidy – Attacks". hindujagruti.org. 18 November 2007. Retrieved 2012-05-10.