New Delhi: Thousands of Muslims who go on Haj pilgrimage each year will no longer get subsidised or cheaper air tickets, the government said today. The big move would help empower Muslims with dignity, said union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, adding, "We believe in empowerment without appeasement."
- We believe in empowerment without appeasement: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi
- Muslims did not benefit from the subsidy, he said
- Subsidy will now be used for educating girls, Mr Naqvi mentioned
The minister said despite Haj subsidy being withdrawn, a record 1.75 lakh Muslims would go on the pilgrimage this year after Saudi Arabia increased India's quota by 5,000.
"Muslims didn't benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls," Mr Naqvi said.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow people to go on the Haj by ship, which is cheaper than flying, Mr Naqvi said. Officials of both countries are working out the details, he said.
The government had asked a panel to explore various questions, including scrapping Haj subsidy, after the Supreme Court in 2012 said it should be withdrawn gradually by 2022.
Since the court ruling, the government has spent less and less on Haj subsidy each year. The government spent Rs 420 crore in 2016 and Rs 225 crore last year on cheaper air tickets.
Days ago, the government also allowed Muslim women above 45 to go on Haj without male company, in a group of at least four. Earlier, women were not allowed to travel without "Mehram"- male relatives they can never marry, like brothers or fathers.
Ending subsidy and allowing older women to travel without male guardians were among the recommendations of a panel tasked by the government to suggest a new Haj policy. The panel's report was submitted in October.
Haj subsidy, besides cheaper fare on national carrier Air India, also includes help to pilgrims provided by the government to reach specially-designed Haj departure terminals at airports, food and medical care.
The government also spends on other pilgrimages like the Kumbh Melas and the Kailash Mansarovar yatra.