The central government on Tuesday said it has decided to withdraw subsidy given to hundreds and thousands of Muslims for the annual Haj pilgrimage.
Announcing the decision, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said it was in line with the government’s agenda to empower minorities without appeasing them.
“This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi told reporters in New Delhi.
He said the government would utilise the funds saved from withdrawing the subsidy, amounting to Rs 700 crore, for education of minorities, particularly girls.
The government had drafted the policy to abolish the Haj subsidy in a phased manner after the Supreme Court asked it in 2012 to withdraw it gradually by 2022.
The policy aims at assigning the Haj quota between the Haj Committee of India and private tour operators, in the ratio of 70:30 for the next five years.
Naqvi added that the Saudi Arabian government has in principle agreed to allow Haj journey from India by ships and officials of the two countries will discuss the modalities.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s Kamal Farooqui welcomed the move. He said that a wrong impression was being created that Muslims were benefiting from the government aid. “Instead, it was national carrier Air India that was the biggest beneficiary of this government scheme,” he said.
This year, the highest number of Indian pilgrims are likely to go for the pilgrimage after Saudi Arabia increased India’s quota by 5,000.
A total of 1.75 lakh Indian Muslims can go for Haj this year.
This decision comes a day after the government allowed Muslim women above the age of 45 to embark on the pilgrimage without a male guardian, in groups of at least four.
Accordingly, around 1,300 women from India are expected to make the annual pilgrimage without a “mehram” (unmarriageable male kin) this year.