The airfare for Haj pilgrimages is likely to increase by around 20 per cent this year as expected by officials of the Haj Committee of India.
According to Haj Committee of India CEO, Ata-ur-Rehman, the reason for the rise in the airfare is on account of the gradual phasing out of the Haj subsidy as ordered by the Supreme Court.
With the Haj season fast approaching, the pilgrims have pleaded with the Central government to ensure that airfares are not hiked up. During the normal times a ticket to Jeddah costs around Rs 24,000 by private airlines but during Haj season, the prices are hiked to around Rs 70,000-Rs 80,000, causing distress to the travellers.
It was in May 2012 that the Supreme Court had directed the Union government to gradually reduce and abolish Haj subsidy in 10 years and invest the amount in education and other measures for social development of the minority community.
"We direct the Central government to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it within a period of 10 years from today," a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P Desai had said in their order.
The court had observed that it was aware that in many other purely religious events there were direct and indirect deployment of state funds and resources. "Nevertheless, we are of the view that Haj subsidy is something that is best done away with," the bench of Justices Alam and Desai said.
The apex court had then also objected to the jumbo-size Prime Minister's goodwill delegation that visits Saudi Arabia every year at the government's expense. "The present practice of sending such a delegation must come to a stop," the bench had said.
BJP and other Hindutva outfits have traditionally attacked Haj subsidy on grounds that it was contrary to the principle of secularism and marked an appeasement of the minority community, before they sought to turn it into justification for subsidy for Hindu pilgrimages.
Following the Supreme Court direction in 2012 to gradually cut back the subsidy, through grants the pilgrims got Rs 20,000 last year. According to sources, a sum of Rs 700 crore annually is gained by the airlines from the government. The airlines get more support through the subsidy than the pilgrims do, the source added.
In view of this some Muslim leaders met CPM General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury who was in the city recently and urged him to take up the issue with the Centre. It may be mentioned that he also is member of the travel and tourism committee of the Parliament. They said it would be better if the government calls for global tenders and selects airlines which would operate special flights for the Haj pilgrims.