The government has done away with Haj subsidy to pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia and instead decided to use the subsidy amount for upliftment of minorities through education, particularly girls.
Minister for minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that 1.75 lakh Muslims, the highest number of pilgrims so far, would go on Haj this year, even as he claimed that the removal of subsidy won't affect the cost of travel for the pilgrims.
The union minister said the government would save Rs700 crore by ending the subsidy. But, he said, the subsidy will now be used for the upliftment of minorities through education, particularly girls.
"This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement," Naqvi told reporters here.
The decision comes at a time when the government had been weighing the option of opening the sea route to Haj pilgrims who travel by air. Before the sea route was closed, it used to take nearly a week for the pilgrims to reach Jeddah from the Yellow Gate in Mumbai's Mazgaon.
The policy to withdraw the Haj subsidy had been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the central government to abolish it by 2022.
When the Narendra Modi government came to power, around Rs700 crore was the subsidy given to Haj pilgrims every year and the main beneficiary of the subsidy was Air India.
The centre in 2016, spent Rs405 crore as subsidy for the Haj pilgrims. In 2014, the subsidy was Rs577.07 crore and in the following year, it was reduced to Rs529.51 crore.
The decision to abolish Haj subsidy comes just a day after the government allowed Muslim women above the age of 45 to go on the pilgrimage without a male guardian, in groups of at least four.
On 31 December 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government has removed the restriction following which hundreds of women have applied to travel alone for the pilgrimage.
Last year the minority affairs ministry constituted a committee to review the existing Haj policy and suggest a framework for a new Haj policy for 2018-22.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board's Kamal Farooqui welcomed the move, saying that a wrong impression was being created that Muslims were gaining from the government aid.
The government will offer air and waterways option for the pilgrims as the cost will go up.