Centre for rise in air fare for Haj travel under govt quota

The Centre on Monday informed the Supreme Court that the cost of air travel for Haj pilgrims under the government quota was not high and also indicated a rise in air fare in a bid to reduce air travel subsidy. Last year, the Centre had given a subsidy of Rs 55,000 per air ticket, which increased the total subsidy to Rs 690 crore.

In a response to the apex court's query on whether the government could find a better economic choice for Haj travel, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said the fare charged by the Haj Committee of India was much lower than those charged by private operators. "Despite higher costs as a result of these special arrangements (extra baggage, extra meal), even today pilgrims travelling through the Haj quota pay much less than general passengers or Haj pilgrims travelling through private operators. The contention that air travel through Haj panel quota is more expensive is erroneous," said the affidavit filed through advocate Haris Beeran.

Opposing the idea of allowing private airlines to take care of Haj travel, the ministry said if the government does not make air travel arrangement by chartering flights for Haj panel quota pilgrims, it would leave them in the hands of market forces. This would certainly expose them to unregulated fares.

Last month, a Bench led by Justice Aftab Alam had said that with over one lakh pilgrims visiting Saudi Arabia, any airliner would be willing to subsidised travel.

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