In a major move, the central government decided to terminate the controversial Hajj subsidy from the next financial year.
The move, as per the government, was in accordance with the directive given by Supreme Court. In 2012, Supreme Court remarked that the Hajj subsidy should be subsequently phased out and the funds should be instead used in the welfare of Muslim community, particularly in the field of the education. However, the Supreme Court gave a 10-year window for the subsidy to be ended, which would be in 2022.
Hajj subsidy is the incentives provided to the Muslims who wanted to go for Hajj, a holy visit that every Muslim is expected to take once in the lifetime. The first subsidy goes back to 1932 when the British Government decided to allocate Bombay and Calcutta as places that would take pilgrims to Saudi for subsidized travel expenses. It became the part of the official budget of independent India since 1954.
Hajj subsidy has long been in controversy by various factions. Some of the points used against it were:
1) Hajj subsidy was a propaganda to gain Muslim vote-bank, some argue. India was one of the few countries to give such incentives for Hajj pilgrims, and even many Muslims countries had no such program. Being a secular nation, it made no sense to give special incentives to a particular community on the basis of religion.
2) The actual beneficiary of the subsidy was Air India. With the subsidy, the cost of the airfare was reduced to almost half, but Air India was paid in full for every journey. This was the reason why Air India was in huge profits and gave it an unfair advantage over other airlines.
Many from the Muslim community have welcomed this decision. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, central minister for minority affairs said: “Hajj subsidy funds will be used for the educational empowerment of girls and women from minority communities.”
Navaid Hameed (President, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat) said that move was awaited since a long time, and that Hajj subsidy had been used as a tool to denounce Muslim community. Even opposition leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Asaduddin Owaisi had welcomed the move, though with concerns about the allotment of the funds to the right places.
Yet, some oppose the move for a particular reason. Hajj subsidy wasn’t the only subsidy the Central government provides for religious purposes. The Kumbh Mela, a grand gathering of Hindu devotees that happen every few years, is funded by the government to a large extent. Even the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is given a similar subsidy, which was increased by the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand government in recent months. Scrapping subsidy for Muslims while providing the same to Hindus clearly goes against the secular nature of our country.
It awaits to be seen how the move plays out in the course of time.