A section of people who have long been protesting against government subsidy for religious pilgrimages were very rejoiced when the central government of NDA decided to scrap the Haj subsidy. But now the latest reports suggest that the subsidy scrapping was ornamental only as the government has significantly reduced the airfare for Haj pilgrims.
Union Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi describing it as a “major step”. “The PMO took a keen interest in this. The decision is in line with our empowerment without appeasement policy,” PTI quoted Naqvi as saying.
“The decision to cut airfares will end the “political and economic exploitation” of Hajis “as was done during the Congress-led UPA regime,” added Naqvi.
To drive home the point, Naqvi compared Haj airfares fixed during the former UPA regime and the ones for 2018.
The fare reduction will be applicable to airlines, including Air India, Saudi Airlines and Flynas, an air carrier based in Saudi Arabia, to Jeddah and Medina from 21 airports in India.
The round fare from Ahmedabad this year will be around Rs 65,015 as against Rs 98,750 in 2013-2014. In the same way, the fare from Mumbai has been brought down to around Rs 57,857 from Rs 98,750 in 2013-14.
This comes a month after the government abolished subsidies given to those on Haj pilgrimage. Naqvi had said that the move, in line with a Supreme court order of 2012, was part of the government’s efforts to “empower minorities” without appeasement. The main Opposition Congress hoped that the government would utilise the money for the welfare of poor children.
The maximum difference of about Rs 97,000 is on the Srinagar fare, which has almost been halved. A round ticket from the Kashmir city cost Rs 1,98,350 in 2014 and will now come for Rs 1,01,400. The minimum cut — of around Rs 20,000 — will be on a ticket from Varanasi, which is down from Rs 1,12,300 to Rs 92,004.
Haj pilgrims can leave from 20 embarkation points (EPs). Indore is another EP but there are no devotees flying out from the Madhya Pradesh city this year.
Air India will serve pilgrims from seven EPs — Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Nagpur, Varanasi, Kolkata and Srinagar. Saudi Airlines will transport devotees from another seven — Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow. Pilgrims from Aurangabad (Maharashtra), Bhopal, Gaya, Guwahati, Mangalore and Ranchi can travel by Flynas.
The airfare from Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai airports — Rs 98,750 per head in 2014 — will now cost Rs 65,015, Rs 71,853 and Rs 57,857 respectively.
A record 1.75 lakh Muslims will undertake the pilgrimage this year from India.
(With inputs from agencies)