The topic of debate today is on Haj subsidy. A controversy over the subsidy for Haj pilgrimage broke out just a day after Saudi Arabia ha increased India's Haj quota. The committee will look into the 2012 verdict of the Supreme Court which had ordered gradually reducing and then abolishing Haj subsidy all together.
The bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam had observed in the 2012 verdict that there is no justification for charging pilgrims an amount that is much lower than even the normal air fare for a return journey from Jeddah. The court had added that the subsidy money may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development.
SC order of 2012 on Haj subsidy:
The bench observed, as regards the Haj subsidy, from the figures for the past 19 years given in the affidavit filed by the Union of India, it appears that the amount has been increasing every year. This is on account of increase both in the number of pilgrims and the travel cost/air fare.
While quoting statistics, the court said that in the year 1994, the number of pilgrims going for Haj from India was as low as 21,035; in 2011, the number of pilgrims increased to 1,25,000. In the year 1994, the cost of travel per pilgrim was only Rs.17,000; in the year 2011, it went up to Rs.54,800. As a result, the total Haj subsidy that was Rs.10.51 crores in the year 1994 swelled up to Rs.685 crores in the year 2011.
It is clear that the Government of India has no control on the cost of travel for Hajj. The air fare to Jeddah for travelling for Haj is increased by airlines to more than double as a result of the regulations imposed by the Saudi Arabian authorities. It is stated in the affidavit that in the year 2011, the air fare for Haj was Rs 58,800, though the normal air fare to and from Jeddah should have been around Rs 25,000.
In the same paragraph, it is also stated that for the Haj of 2011, each pilgrim was charged Rs 16,000, towards air fare. In other words, what was charged from the pilgrims is slightly less than 2/3rd of the otherwise normal fare, the Bench led by Justice Alam also observed.
SC stated that it saw no justification for charging from the pilgrims an amount that is much lower than even the normal air fare for a return journey to Jeddah.
"As regards the difference between the normal air fare and increased fare, we appreciate the intent of the Government of India to provide subsidy to cover the additional burden resulting from the stringent regulation imposed by the Saudi Arabian Authorities."
"We also take note of the fact that the grant of subsidy has been found to be constitutionally valid by this court. We are also not oblivious of the fact that in many other purely religious events there are direct and indirect deployment of state funds and state resources. Nevertheless, we are of the view that Haj subsidy is something that is best done away with."
"This court has no claim to speak on behalf of all the Muslims of the country and it will be presumptuous for us to try to tell the Muslims what is for them a good or bad religious practice. Nevertheless, we have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Haj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage and if all the facts are made known a good many of the pilgrims would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Haj is funded to a substantial extent by the government," the court said.