Is Haj Subsidy suspension a call for suspending state-funded religious pilgrimages?

The Modi government has quashed the Haj subsidy and has diverted the fund for development of the minority. Why can’t the same be done with other religious pilgrimages?

The Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi yesterday announced that Haj Subsidy given to pilgrims has been suspended. His announcement came after a series of discussions and meetings with the Haj Committee of India.

However, the Haj Subsidy has been surrounded by the clouds of controversy. The Hajj subsidy includes an airfare subsidy to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach the Haj departure airport terminals, meal, medical care and lodging assistance provided by the Government of India.

Ministry of Civil Aviation provides the subsidy for air travel to the pilgrims through the Haj Committee of India. According to the government data, the total subsidy amounts ₹837 crores in 2012. It has decreased to ₹405 crores in 2016., in 2017, it dropped to 200 crores.

On the other hand, Haj Subsidy was opposed by many, including Hindu and Muslim community as well. The Muslim community was particularly unhappy with the monopoly of Air India. Muslims contend that even Air India’s subsidised fare is higher than competing airlines’ ordinary fare.

And thus, suspension of Haj subsidy did not create a much uproar in the community. The Supreme Court has directed in 2012, that the subsidy on air travel should be phased out in ten years. The supreme court also asked to divert the funds to the development of minorities instead.

Haj Subsidy
Supreme Court ruling in 2012 ordered to wave subsidy in 10 years

Talking to HW News, NCP leader Nawab Malik said, “The subsidy was never meant for the Muslim community, only Air India benefitted from the subsidy amount.” He also attacked the Modi government saying, “They (government) are saying the fund will be directed for the development of the community. However, it is nothing but propaganda.”

Considering the democratic and secular values enshrined in our constitution, the move to quash Haj Subsidy is laudable. But we must also focus on subsidies provided by the government to other religious pilgrimages.

In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh various government subsidies are provided for pilgrimages for senior citizens under Mukhyamantri Tirth Darshan Yojana. It subsidises pilgrimages such as Nankana Saheb Shrine and Hinglaj Mata temple, Kailash Man Sarovar, Angkor Vat and Sita Mandir and Ashok Vatika. Apart from Madhya Pradesh, several other states like Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi and Uttarakhand provide money to residents going on the Manasarovar yatra to cover a part of the expenses, which amount to about ₹1.5 lakh each.

Haj Subsidy
Image Courtesy: Chattisgarh Government website

However, maximum government fund is spent on the mammoth fest of Hindus-Kumbh. It is organised at four places in Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.

In 2016, the event got a massive boost from the central government. The Union Culture ministry allocated ₹100 crores for the Simhastha Mahakumbh in Ujjain even after the state government providing ₹3,400 crores.

Yogi Adityanath led government in Uttar Pradesh last year announced that it will spend a massive fund of Rs 2500 crore for the preparations of Ardh Kumbh Mela scheduled to be held in 2019.

Now the question is, will the government suspend the funds allocated to Hindu religious pilgrimages just like it squashed Haj subsidy? Will Yogi Adityanath cancel the 2500 crore fund to Ardh Kumbh Mela? Just like Haj subsidy is diverted to development of the community, why can’t this fund be used for the upliftment of the backwards and improving infrastructure?

For a truly secular nation, pilgrimages, be it of any religion; should not be funded by public exchequer. The thousands and crores of fund pored for religious pilgrimages instead be used to improve educational and health infrastructure in the country.

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