The Hajj Subsidy Conundrum – Explained
A friend’s post in a social media group prompted me to study more about Hajj Subsidy. Hajj Subsidy is an oft quoted thing by some people who claim that Govt is carrying out appeasement of minorities in this case specifically Muslims in India.
What is Hajj? We need to answer this first to understand the meaning of it. Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the biggest annual gathering of a people in the world. It is a tradition that has been followed even before Prophet Mohammed. I think it was Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham who initiated this around 2000BC) It is the highest pilgrimage that a Muslim can perform if he can once in his life.
Is it prescribed for all? The answer is NO. It is only prescribed for those who can afford it, physically able and for those who have completed their responsibilities (Like marrying off children, dividing property etc). In olden days people going on Hajj were not expected to return because of old age and the distance and travel by Ship. But if they did return, they were called Hajis, and were expected to lead a peaceful religious life. Today this journey is very simple because of Flights and are more organised (despite the loss of life recently in the 2015 Hajj) and 99.9% people return alive.
My first shock in life was how can a Haji be a smuggler? Haji Mastan the famous smuggler Mobster of the 70s in Mumbai! Slowly it dawned on me, doing Hajj doesn’t clean your sins unless you do.
Coming to Hajj Subsidy now. It goes totally against the principles/ tenets of Islam and Hajj. Because you are NOT supposed to perform Hajj if you can’t afford it. Therefore the question of getting a subsidy is wrong per se.
So when did this start. It started in 1932 when Britisher’s started Haj embarkation at Bombay and Calcutta. This was replaced in 1959 by the Haj Committee Act. A subsidy was granted to include travel, medicare and food in the ships. Ships were abolished in 1973 after an accident and flights were permitted. Many pilgrims were not able to afford it and so the subsidy was increased to bridge the difference.
How much is the subsidy? We should understand that only Air India is permitted to fly Haj flights and hence whatever is the subsidy goes to Air India only. The amount depends on the airfare at that time. Air fare ranges from INR 65,000 onwards…..In 2014, a sum of INR 35,000 was charged from the pilgrim for the air ticket and rest was made up of Govt subsidy. In 2015, the amount charged was INR 42000. The pilgrim has to pay for other expenses separately. A lakh plus pilgrims have utilised the subsidy last year.
Is there another way to go to Hajj? Only those who get the subsidy have to go by Air India. Others who afford can go by any airways….I know a person who performed the pilgrimage and it cost her about 2.2 lakhs in 2011. A normal airline charges about INR 30,000 only for airfare. AI charges double that plus extra. So I do not know what the meaning of subsidy is. Is it a bail out to Air India or is someone else pocketing it or is it to the Pilgrim. I know the next question is why then should people prefer the Govt route….The answer lies in Visa for Hajj. Saudi Govt issues only a limited number of Visas and most Visas are pocketed by the Govt. Hence the rush for the Govt route. Otherwise provide the visa free, and I think it should become cheaper on the whole.
What do Muslims thinks about the Hajj Subsidy? From the Imam of Jama Masjid to leading luminaries and the Minority Affairs Ministry have opposed the subsidy. YES OPPOSED the subsidy. The Supreme Court in a Landmark ruling declared that this is unconstitutional and un-Islamic and that Haj Subsidy should be totally removed by 2022. Accordingly the total subsidy is decreasing each year from 840 crores in 2012 to 533 Crores in 2014….and will reduce further.
I personally feel, Taxpayers money should NOT be utilised only for one community. Every community should pay for its own beliefs. What is the solution? Abolish Hajj Subsidy and improve the lot by education and enabling them to create wealth to pay for themselves. Also Muslims have a tradition of Zakkat that is giving 2.5% of their income to charity. If they want they should provide funds for such issues of helping out people for going to Hajj.
But therein lies the catch…if you can’t afford, why go in the first place? And if the Govt is giving a subsidy- who is the beneficiary – The Pilgrim or Air India. You are the Best Judge!