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Govt Panel Likely to Reduce Subsidy for Haj Pilgrims, Owaisi Backs Move

New Delhi: A day after Saudi Arabia increased India’s annual Haj quota, the Centre on Thursday formed a six-member committee to look into the Haj subsidy issue in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order on gradually reducing and abolishing subsidy given to pilgrims by 2022, sources said.

The committee, inter alia, will figure out whether the pilgrims can travel to Saudi Arabia paying less in the absence of such subsidy, they added.

“Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has already formed a high-level committee to look into the Haj subsidy issue. The committee will look into whether giving subsidy has benefits or can pilgrims travel paying less if there no subsidy is offered,” a source said.

The committee will engage all the stakeholders concerned before submitting its report, they added.

The sources said that the official announcement regarding the formation of the panel is expected in the next few days.

In the biggest hike in nearly three decades, Saudi Arabia had on Thursday increased India’s annual Haj quota by 34,500, a move welcomed by the NDA government as a “matter of pleasure”.

Naqvi and Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten inked an agreement in this regard in Jeddah on Wednesday, increasing the size of India’s Haj quota from 1,36,020 to 1,70,520.

The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the Union government to gradually reduce and abolish Haj subsidy by 2022.

It had asked the government to invest the subsidy amount of approximately Rs 650 crore a year then on the educational and social development of the community.

Meanwhile, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president and Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi on Wednesday said Muslims do not need government subsidy for going to Haj.

He claimed that subsidy amount of Rs 450 crore was actually being utilised by the airlines, either Air India or some other international carriers.

“If a global tender is called, on lesser prices more people will go for Haj,” he told a news channel.

He also suggested if there was any bilateral agreement in this regard the government should renegotiate it.

The AIMIM president demanded that the subsidy amount of Rs 450 crore should be spent on girls’ education.

“This significant amount of Rs 450 crore, of haj subsidy, should be utilised for girl education. Create more girls schools, hostels… Rs 450 cr is a huge amount,” he said.

Owaisi said he had been raising this issue for past 11 years in Parliament.

“As a Muslim, I do not get any government subsidy to go on Haj. A Haj is obligatory on Muslims who have their own financial wherewithal. We do not need any govt subsidy. Please give this money to the scholarships of girl students. This will make India and the Muslim community stronger,” he added.

He said, the subsidy was started during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s regime when people used to go on ships but “now we do not require it at all.”