The debate on secularism in India is probably incomplete without the reference to subsidies extended by the government for religious activities of citizens. The subsidy extended to Hajj pilgrims is one such direct subsidy. Now that the government has announced that no subsidy will be extended to Hajj pilgrims, here is a look at past numbers.
The Hajj is organised annually, during which Muslims visit the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The nation allocates a quota to each country, on the basis of one pilgrim for every thousand of the Muslim population of the country. People either undertake the pilgrimage through the Hajj Committee of India (HCOI) or private tour operators.
Between 2012 and 2017, a total of 6,71,388 Muslims went on the pilgrimage through HCOI and 2,12,490 through private operators. The quota remained at 1.36 lakh till 2016, and increased to 1.7 lakh pilgrims in 2017.
Which state sends the maximum pilgrims?
State-wise quota is decided on the basis of Muslim population in a state and the availability of applications. Hence, states with a large Muslim population send the most number of pilgrims every year. Uttar Pradesh tops the list every year, followed by West Bengal and Maharashtra. In the six years from 2012 to 2017, Uttar Pradesh sent about 24 per cent of the total pilgrims from India. UP, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala account for close to 50 per cent of the HCOI quota.
What kind of support does the government provide?
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) coordinates the Hajj arrangements, in consultation with HCOI and Consulate General of India, Jeddah. The ministry also sends 546 officials on deputation every year, including coordinators, assistant officers, Hajj assistants, doctors and paramedical staff for rendering assistance to the pilgrims.
The Consulate General of India arranges for temporary tents in Mina, sets up dispensaries, branch offices, arranges ambulances and other local transport for pilgrims with the approval of the MEA. Medicines and medical equipment are supplied by the ministry. The ministry of civil aviation supervises the air charter operation during the Hajj period and deploys officials for support in Saudi Arabia.
What is the total subsidy amount?
The total subsidy amount as per data shared by the government was Rs 837 crore in 2012 and decreased to Rs 405 crore in 2016. The pilgrims pay for expenses incurred on air passage, accommodation, local transport within Saudi Arabia and food in Medina, etc. HCOI meets the costs of the pilgrimage through payments made by the pilgrims. No other external grant is provided by the ministry of external affairs to the Hajj committee.
Why is the subsidy being removed?
The Supreme Court directed in 2012 that the subsidy on air travel should be phased out in ten years. In the judgment, the court observed that the subsidy amount was increasing every year – it rose from Rs 10.51 crore in 1994 to Rs 837 crore in 2012.
The court directed the government to phase out the subsidy, quoting from the Quran that only those who can afford it should go on the pilgrimage. It also observed that the amount could be better utilised for the uplift of the Muslim community.