Haj subsidy cuts start soon

From next year, the government will start phasing out the subsidy it doles out on Haj pilgrimage leaving it to the rich Hajis to pay for their poor brethren.

Nodal Ministry of External Affairs is framing a Cabinet note on Haj Management Reforms where it has proposed that the government stop subsiding pilgrimages, including Haj, over seven years starting from next year.

Instead, "a premium would be charged from better-off Hajis to cross-subsidise the travel cost for the less well-off Hajis". For this, the quota of poor Hajis going through the lottery route and the rich going through the premium route would be kept equal.

"The better-off Hajis will pay 20 per cent premium in the first year with the government funding the rest. This premium would be raised gradually to its full value in seven years so that the government is kept out of the funding," said an MEA official.

"At the same time, cost optimization steps such as long-term leasing of accommodation, reducing turnaround time of a Haji in Saudi Arabia and long-term licensing of tour operators would be carried out so that the gap and hence the premium charged comes down substantially," he added.

The entire operations would be handed over to Central Haj Committee which would act as a "one-stop-shop". This delegation to CHC including fixing aircraft carriers and airfare would be first experimented for three years before suitably amending the Haj Committee Act of 2002.

"The CHC will work out the operational details of the cross-subsidisation model so as to phase out the subsidy on airfare over a period of seven years," said the MEA official. The proposal has the approval of the Committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary, he said.

The objective of the proposed reforms is to comply with the court directions. In August 2006, the Allahabad High Court restrained the Centre from subsidising Haj or any other Yatra of any community except for making arrangements to ensure law and order and pilgrims' safety.

In July 2009, Andhra Pradesh HC held that the state cannot fund any pilgrimage after PILs challenged state's allocation of Rs 2 crore for Christians for journey to holy sites.

Last August, the Minority Affairs Ministry opposed providing subsidy for Haj pilgrimage, saying the scheme in operation since 1993 was contrary to the teachings of Islam.

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