- What is the hajj?
- Hajj pilgrims from India
- What is the Haj subsidy?
- Government subsidy for other religious pilgrimages in India
- Criticisms against the Haj subsidy
- What’s next?
Haj subsidy: Why is it scrapped?
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GS (M) Paper-2: “Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections”
The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs has decided to abolish the subsidy being given to Haj pilgrims every year as a part of its policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement.
What is the hajj?
- The hajj — Arabic for “pilgrimage” — is a five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia that all Muslims who are physically and financially able must perform at least once in their lives.
- It is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam, along with the profession of faith in the one God and Mohammed as his prophet, prayer, charitable giving, and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
- The hajj takes place only once a year, in the 12th and final month of the Islamic lunar calendar; pilgrimages to Mecca made at other times in the year are encouraged but do not count as the hajj. Because the Islamic lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the 365 days of the standard Gregorian calendar, the timing of the hajj moves backward each year.
Hajj pilgrims from India:
- The number of Hajj pilgrims from India is largest among all countries around of world.
What is the Haj subsidy?
- The Haj subsidy refers to discounted airfares given by the government-owned airlines, Air India.
- It also includes assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially designed Haj departure airport terminals, lodging, medical care and meal.
- The policy to support Muslims in making the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, can be traced back to 1932, when the British enacted the Port Haj Committees Act. In the ensuing decades, the Act has undergone numerous changes.
- Originally, the subsidy was given on air fares of flights between Bombay and Jeddah. Later, additional flight legs were added to the subsidy list.
- Since 1984, all the traffic for Haj from India to Saudi Arabia has been shared between Air India and Saudi, both of which are the government funded carriers of their respective countries.
Government subsidy for other religious pilgrimages in India:
- The Haj is not the only religious pilgrimage being funded by the State.
- A number of other religious tours are supported by the government. For instance, the state and central governments spend considerable amounts on the pilgrim facilities at the four Kumbh melas in Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Allahabad.
- The Kailash Manasarovar yatra from North India to the mountains of Tibet is yet another pilgrimage which is organised by the government with arrangements being made for security and health facilities.
The decision to abolish Haj subsidy was taken based on the recommendations of May 2012 Supreme Court order and Afzal Amanullah Committee.
Supreme Court order:
- The Supreme Court in May 2012 had directed that Haj subsidy should be done away gradually by 2022.
- The order of court reiterated Holy Quran verses (Verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran mandates that Hajj should be taken up only if a Muslim can afford it) and said that amount spent should be used in education and other measures for social development of the minority community.
Afzal Amanullah Committee
- In accordance with the order, Union Government had constituted committee headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah to suggest framework for new Haj policy for 2018-22. It had submitted its report in October 2017.
- The committee had recommended for gradual withdrawal of Haj subsidy. It also had recommended to allow older Muslim women to travel to haj without male guardians.
Criticisms against the Haj subsidy
In recent years, the Haj subsidy has called for significant criticism from various parties.
- The Haj subsidy has been heavily criticised particularly because of the monopoly formed by Air India in carrying out the pilgrimage. Allegedly, the government subsidies have resulted in major profits for Air India, benefiting the airlines far more than the pilgrims.
- According to several critics of the subsidy, if booked months in advance, it is possible to buy cheaper air tickets, thereby doing away with the need for subsidy.
- Some of the political parties have also called the subsidy as minority appeasement.
- Now onwards, proceeds from Haj subsidy will be used for educational empowerment and welfare of girls from minority communities.