Debate on secularism in India is probably incomplete without the reference to subsidies extended by the Government to various religious activities of citizens. The subsidy extended to Haj Pilgrims is one such direct subsidy. Based on a Supreme Court order in 2012, the Government of India has been steadily decreasing the amount of subsidy extended to the Haj Pilgrimage and announced that no such subsidy will be extended this year.
Debate on secularism in India is probably incomplete without the reference to subsidies extended by the Government to the religious activities of citizens. The subsidy extended to Haj Pilgrims is one such direct subsidy. Now that the government has announced that no subsidy will be extended to Haj pilgrims, here is a look at the past numbers.
The Haj Pilgrimage
Haj pilgrimage is organized annually during which Muslim pilgrims visit Makkah, Mina, Arafat, Muzadalifa and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia allocates a quota to each country on the basis of one pilgrim for every thousand of the Muslim population of the country. Haj pilgrims either undertake pilgrimage through Haj Committee of India (HCOI) or the Private Tour Operators (PTO).
Number of Pilgrims
Between 2012 & 2017, a total of 6,71,388 Muslims have gone on Haj pilgrimage through the Haj Committee of India (HCOI) and 2,12,490 through Private Tour Operators (PTOs). The total number of pilgrims was close to 1.7 lakh in 2012 and had dropped to around 1.36 lakh in 2013. The quota remained at 1.36 lakh till 2016. In the year 2017, the quota increased to 1.7 lakh pilgrims. In 2017, there is an increase both in the quota of HCOI & PTOs.Which State sends the most Haj Pilgrims?
The state wise breakup of Haj Pilgrims who go through the PTOs is not available. But the state wise quota of Haj Pilgrims who undertake the pilgrimage through HCOI is available with the government. The state wise quota is decided on the basis of Muslim population of a state and the availability of applications. Hence states with a large Muslim population send the most number of Haj Pilgrims every year. Uttar Pradesh sends the maximum number of Haj Pilgrims every year followed by West Bengal & Maharashtra. In the six years from 2012 to 2017, Uttar Pradesh sent more than 1.62 lakh pilgrims, which is about 24% of the total number from India. The four states of UP, West Bengal, Maharashtra & Kerala account for close to 50% of the HCOI quota. Only these four states sent more than 50000 pilgrims each between 2012 & 2017. Of the bigger states, Punjab sent the last number of Haj pilgrims.
What kind of support does the Government Provide?
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) coordinates the Haj arrangements, in consultation with Haj Committee of India (HCOI) and Consulate General of India (CGI), Jeddah. MEA also sends 546 officials on deputation every year that include Coordinators, Assistant Haj Officers, Haj Assistants, Doctors & Para-medical staff for rendering assistance to the Haj pilgrims.
The Consulate General of India, Jeddah arranges for temporary Tents in Mina, sets up Dispensaries, Branch Haj Offices, arranges ambulances and other local transport for the Haj pilgrims with the approval of the MEA. Medicines and medical equipment are supplied by MEA to Consulate General of India, Jeddah to meet the medical requirements of Haj pilgrims. During Haj 2016, medicines worth Rs. 1.5 crores were supplied.
Ministry of Civil Aviation supervises the Air Charter operation during Haj period and deploys officials for support in Saudi Arabia to assist in embarkation and disembarkation of pilgrims.
What is the total subsidy amount?
Ministry of Civil Aviation provides subsidy for air travel to the pilgrims through the Haj Committee of India. The actual airfare differs based on the embarkation point. The total subsidy amount as per data shared by the government Rs.837 crores in 2012. It has decreased to Rs 405 crore in 2016.The Haj pilgrims pay for the expenses incurred on air passage, accommodation, local transport within Saudi Arabia and food in Madinah etc. Haj Committee of India meets the costs of the Haj pilgrimage through the payments made by the pilgrims. No other external grant is provided by the Ministry of External Affairs to Haj Committee of India.
Why is the subsidy being removed?
The Supreme Court has directed in 2012, that the subsidy on air travel should be phased out in ten years. In this judgment, the Supreme Court observed that the subsidy amount was increasing every year. The subsidy provided by the government increased from Rs 10.51 crore in 1994 to Rs 837 crore in 2012.The Supreme Court directed the government to phase out the subsidy and eliminate it in 10 years quoting from the Holy Quran that only those who afford should go on the Haj Pilgrimage. The court also observed that this amount could be better utilized for the upliftment of the Muslim community.
In the same case, the court passed another order in July 2012 in which the number of Haj seats under VIP quota (Discretionary quota) to dignitaries has been restricted to 500 seats in the following manner.
- President of India : 100 seats
- Vice-President of India : 75 seats
- Prime Minister of India : 75 seats
- External Affairs Minister : 50 seats
- Haj Committee of India : 200 seats.