The government on Tuesday decided to withdraw Hajj subsidy to pilgrims. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had in 2012 directed that subsidy on air travel should be phased out in ten years.
The court had said that as regards the Hajj subsidy, from the figures for the past 19 years given in the affidavit filed by the Union of India, it appears that the amount of subsidy has been increasing every year.
The court said, " this is on account of increase both in number of pilgrims and the travel cost/air fare. In the year 1994, the number of pilgrims going for Hajj from India was as low as 21,035. In 2011 it was 12,5000. In the year 1994 the cost of travel per pilgrim was only Rs 17,000. In 2011 it went up to 54,800. As a result the total Hajj subsidy that was Rs 10.51 crore in the year 1994 swelled up to Rs 685 crore in 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 Aftab Alam also observed."
The 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 also said.
What is Hajj subsidy:
The Haj subsidy is a subsidy given to Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims by the Government of India in form of discounted Air fares on Indian Government owned Air India. The programme has its origins in British colonial era.
In post-colonial era, the Government of India expanded the program in 1959 with the Hajj Act The subsidy initially applied to Indian Muslim pilgrims traveling for religious reasons to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan. Hajj subsidy started in 1954, as an idea initiated by the then government, with flights between Mumbai and Jeddah. Additional flight legs were added over the years, and since 1984, all Hajj traffic has been shared by Air India and Saudia, the national carriers of India and Saudi Arabia.
Hajj subsidy has reduced:
Over the years the subsidy has gradually reduced. In the year 2012, the subsidy extended was Rs 836.56 crore. This amount reduced to Rs 680.03 crore in 2013. In 2014 it further reduced to Rs 533 crore. In the year 2015 the subsidy was at Rs 529.51 crore and in 2016 it reduced to Rs 405 crore.
Hajj pilgrims in 2017:
- Indonesia - 221,000
- Pakistan - 179,210
- India - 170,000
- Bangladesh - 127,198
- Egypt - 108,000
- Iran - 86,500
- Nigeria - 79,000
- Turkey - 79,000
- Algeria - 36,000
- Morocco - 31,000