Wednesday, 17 January 2018 | PNS | New Delhi-
For the first time since the Independence, Muslim pilgrims would go to Haj in Saudi Arabia without any subsidy as the Government said on Tuesday that it seeks to empower minorities without appeasement.
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed that Haj subsidy has been withdrawn and said sea route for the Haj, closed in 1995, has been re-started.
The Saudi Arabia Government has agreed to allow Indians to go on Haj by the sea route and officials of the two countries will work out the modalities, sea journey would take two to three days for Haj.
He said a record number of 1.75 lakh Indian Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage this year “without any subsidy” which “is Haj with dignity”.
“Rs 700 crore annual Haj subsidy would now be zero,” he announced here while asserting that the money thus saved would be diverted for the educational empowerment of girls from the minority community.
The decision is in line with a 2012 Supreme Court order, asking the Government to do away with the subsidy, which had long been sought by the BJP. Subsequent to the court order, the subsidy was being gradually reduced every year. Naqvi, the only Muslim representation in the Modi-Cabinet, said Haj subsidy was part of the appeasement politics of parties like the Congress.
The subsidy given to Indian Muslim Haj pilgrims since the Independence was in form of discounted air fares on Government-owned Air India. During Haj, men pilgrims wear a seamless two-piece white garment, symbolising a state of purity. Women also generally wear white, covering full body except their faces and hands. In 2015-16, 1.50 lakh Muslims undertook Haj, the ultimate pilgrimage for the faithful.
Naqvi said this year around 1,300 women would go to Haj without having to be chosen from a lottery system. They would go without traditional male guardian (Mehram) but be accompanied with “Mahila officers”. Those above 70 years of age would also not have to go through the draw system of selection for the Haj, he said. This apart, doors for the disabled to undertake Haj has been opened by the Government, the Minister said.
Haj pilgrims from certain regions will have an additional option to choose from where they want to fly to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, he said and claimed that this would bring down the cost by up to 70 per cent on some routes. Those who would take journey from Srinagar (J&K) would be spending an estimated Rs 1,60,000 but the cost may be far less Rs 60,000 for those would undertake pilgrimage from Delhi.
Detailing a slew of development measures undertaken by his Ministry during last three-years, Naqvi said a meeting of Minority Affairs Ministers and top officials of nine States has been called at Lucknow on January 18 to discuss further measures for the welfare measures for the minorities in the country. The meeting would be presided by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Besides UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Delhi, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh would attend the meet.
Naqvi said his Ministry is planning Central schools in 100 places which would have 30 per cent students from minorities and 70 per cent from others for “samaveshi vikas”.
He also cited a host of measures, such as providing jobs and job opportunities to 8.5 lakh minority youths and scholarships to 1.83 crore students, to claim that the BJP-led NDA Government has been working to empower minorities.
His Ministry is entrusted with welfare measures for minorities that include Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Jains.
Reacting to the development, the Congress said that it hopes the Modi Government will utilise the money for the uplift of the disempowered among the minorities. The party also mentioned that the actual beneficiaries would now be airlines and not the Hajis.
“The Government withdrew Haj subsidy almost four years before date prescribed by the Supreme Court, we do not have any issue. Let it be clear that Hajis are not benefited by the subsidy. The actual beneficiaries are the airlines or the operators,” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said addressing the media.
Congress Communications head in-charge Randeep Surjewala said the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice A Aftab Alam had in 2012 directed the abolition of the Haj subsidy.
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