By Syed Shahabuddin
Mr. Masoom Moradabadi's article "Haj Subsidy - Fact or Fiction" (MG, 1-15 September, 2002) suffers from a number of ill-founded presumptions and evident inaccuracies.
Firstly, Haj subsidy is the difference between the Haj charter fare charged by the carriers under the agreement with the Haj Committee and the fare collected by the Haj Committee from the pilgrims. If the difference is, say, Rs.32,000 minus Rs.12,000 i.e. Rs.20,000 per pilgrim, for 72,000 pilgrims traveling by the Haj charter managed by the Haj Committee, the total subsidy will come to Rs.20,000 x 72,000 i.e. 144 crores. So it is neither fictitious nor imaginary. Nor does it amount to the Government of India or the Haj Committee hoodwinking the pilgrims. Neither is it eyewash. Neither it is theologically desirable. However, I deliberately keep off the theological argument for its abolition as Pakistan has done. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Muslim country which subsidizes Haj.
Secondly, Haj subsidy is not at all comparable to the cost of bandobast made in India by the Central/State Governments or local administration at the time of fairs like the Kumbh Mela or pilgrimages like the Amarnath Yatra or, for that matter, the annual Urs of Muslim saints like Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Gharibnawaz at Ajmer. Bandobast is comparable to the massive arrangements made by the Government of Saudi Arabia for the Haj for all pilgrims and the supportive arrangements made by the Government of India like the opening of a permanent Haj Office in the Consulate General of India, Jeddah, the deputation of the Haj Mission during the Haj to expand the Haj Office, the posting of a Medical Mission with the opening of several Haj dispensaries in Mecca and Medina, free distribution of medicines, provision of ambulance services and limited hospitalization facilities; deputation of Khuddamul Hujjaj by the various State Haj Committees and of its own members by the Haj Committee, not to mention the costly, wasteful and purposeless exercise of sending an Official Haj Goodwill Mission. The bandobast includes also the facilities provided by the State and Central Haj Committee for collecting and training pilgrims, arranging internal transportation, monitoring their arrival at and departure from various collecting and exit points in India.
Thirdly, there is no such thing as 'Haj quota'. It was introduced at the time when the country faced a foreign exchange problem and the quota was fixed keeping in view the foreign exchange outlay set aside for Haj pilgrims. The reality is that for several years practically all those who apply to the Haj Committee have been accepted to proceed for Haj. Perhaps many applied to the Haj Committee because of the subsidy. There is no foreign exchange shortage now and any citizen going abroad, whatever his purpose, is eligible to draw foreign exchange, much more than the maximum allowed to a Haj pilgrim by the Haj Committee in its wisdom.
Fourthly, it is historically wrong to assert that the question of reducing Haj subsidy and ultimately eliminating it has arisen only after the NDA/BJP came to power though the Sangh Parivar's criticism has become more shrill and sharp. The question of Haj Subsidy was formally raised in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs in the early '90's during Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao's Government year after year. All parties are represented in the Standing Committee and the recommendation to reduce it and eventually to abolish it was unanimous. What is important for us is to realize that for the benefit of a few, we have served the Sangh Parivar with a 'cause' on a platter, given them a stick to beat the Muslims with and an argument to their theory that secularism in the Indian context means appeasement or preferential treatment to the minorities! Is this in the long-term interest of the Muslim community?
Fifthly, Haj subsidy indeed began in the early 70's after the oil crisis which caused recurring losses to the Moghul Line, a subsidiary of the Shipping Corporation of India, which operated a Haj service initially with 4 ships. I recall vividly that the Board of Directors of the Moghul Line toyed with the idea of raising the First Class fare while maintaining the deck class fare more or less, so as to break the cost of the service even on a no-profit, no loss basis. In the meantime, a worldwide trend arose to reduce passenger shipping because of the non-availability of new passenger ships.
Ship building yards were constructing few ships, that too of the luxury class for tourists. Thus the Moghul Line was not in a position to replace its aging vessels. More and more Haj traffic from all over the world, except from the Sudan or Somalia across the Red Sea, for the same reason has shifted to air. Today almost entire Haj traffic is by air. Therefore, those who argue that the Government of India or the Haj Committee should acquire passenger ships are obviously ignorant of the world shipping situation or that the sea fare would exceed the air fare, apart from adding to the overall cost of the Haj due to longer travel time and longer stay in Saudi Arabia. Haj transportation from India by air had begun in the 60's itself. But as it grew, it faced the oil crisis in the early 70's when the carriers raised airfare due to inordinate rise in the cost of aviation fuel.
Haj subsidy was introduced so as to provide a temporary cushion against sudden increase in the Haj fare. The Haj charter fare was fixed first, to the best of my recollection, at Rs.6,000, then raised to Rs.8,000, then to Rs.12,000, where it has remained static for the last two decades or more.
To the extent the Haj fare increases because of rise in the IATA return fare, say, Delhi-Jeddah-Delhi, in US Dollars and the change in the rate of exchange between the Dollar and the Rupee, there is nothing that the Government of India or the Haj Committee can do. For example, if the IATA fare increases from $400 to $600 and the exchange rate from Rs.10 to Rs.50 per dollar, it will mean a natural increase of $200 X 40 = Rs.8,000. This the Haj pilgrim should pay in good conscience, just as he pays higher accommodation charges in Mecca and Medina and Mina-Arafat, the higher cost of bread and other essentials he buys in Saudi Arabia and even higher fixed charges for Haj movement payable to the Saudi Arabian authorities because of the corresponding rise in the exchange rate of the Saudi Riyals which is linked to dollar at $1.00 = SR 3.75. However, Mr. Moradabadi has a point - which I have myself been arguing for years upon the Government of India, both the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of External Affairs: there is no reason for the Haj charter fare, whosoever be the carrier, to exceed 2/3 of the normal IATA fare. I say 2/3, not ½ because one has to make allowance of 2 vacant runs of the aircraft from Jeddah to Delhi during the outward movement and from Delhi to Jeddah during the inward movement. Indeed, during my time as Joint Secretary (Haj) in the Ministry of External Affairs and as
Member/Vice-Chairman of the Haj Committee, I had endeavoured to keep it more or less at that level. Unfortunately it went totally out of control during the late 90's and the charter fare as a proportion of the IATA fare began rising. Now the Charter fare exceeds the IATA fare by 10%. The inability or the unwillingness of the Haj Committee, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to lower the Charter fare is the real problem.
I do not understand why the Government is unwilling to examine closely the cause of the inordinate rise in the charter fare as a proportion of the current IATA fare. This is a mystery I cannot unravel. But I have my doubts about the integrity and the efficiency of the negotiating team and the decision makers. This doubt is further enhanced because of adhoc procedures being adopted for selecting the carrier and fixing the Charter fare. Surely some people are profiting at the expense of the Government and the pilgrims and the Muslims are serving as the scapegoat.
Assuming Rs.32,000 to be the Haj Charter fare and 72,000 pilgrims, the total transaction comes to Rs.230.4 crores. We know that in our country every transaction generates a Commission, an under-the-table payment. 5% will amount to more than 11.5 crores! That there is corruption goes without saying but one does not know how far up the money travels. If the Government wish to convince the Muslim community about the need to pay higher Haj charter fare, the process of charter arrangement must become transparent. The statutory responsibility for making arrangement for the transportation of the pilgrims vests in the Haj Committee. It is for the Haj Committee to float the international tender and to enter into negotiations with the interested carriers (including Air India or India Airlines) which respond and make a bid. The Haj Committee has the necessary expertise by now, to work out its essential requirements for the tender. To examine the bids and to negotiate with the shortlisted bidders, It should form a 5-man Negotiating Team with the Chairman and one more member, preferably one of the Vice-Chairmen, a representative each of the Ministries of External Affairs, Civil Aviation and Finance at the level of Joint Secretary. Air India which has an obvious conflict of interest should not, repeat NOT, be represented on the Team. The Ministry of Civil Aviation should, however, direct the Airport Authority of India to offer best possible terms for ground facilities for the outward and inward flights and the Directorate of Civil Aviation to check and certify the airworthiness of the aircrafts offered by the carrier. It goes without saying that the terms of the Charter will be subject to final approval by the Government.
The Haj Committee should, through the Embassy of India, Riyadh and the Consulate General of India, Jeddah, find out in advance from the Saudi Arabian Airlines whether it wishes to participate in the transportation arrangement and if so, whether it will accept the terms offered by the Haj Committee to which the other carrier agrees. In case the Haj Committee selects a carrier other than Air India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation should issue a directive to Air India to comply with the requisite formalities as the national carrier. Presently, even the formation of the Negotiating Team is kept secret; its composition is a top secret; the final terms agreed to are never released for public scrutiny.
The mode of payment of the subsidy, to the Haj Committee or directly to the carrier, by the Ministry of External Affairs or by the Ministry of Civil Aviation or through Air India is also not in the public domain. Why all this secrecy? What is urgently needed is a White Paper on Haj Subsidy giving year-wise IATA fare, the prevailing exchange rate, the name of the carrier, Haj charter fare payable to the carrier, the fare collected from the pilgrim, the subsidy per pilgrim and the total amount. The White Paper should also give the names of the then Chairman, Haj Committee, the then Minister of Civil Aviation and the then Chairman/Managing Director of Air India. If the Haj charter fare is brought down to 2/3 of the IATA fare and the pilgrim is asked to pay the natural increase on Rs.12,000 since it was first fixed, the Government can well pay the difference, without much political repercussion. Or the pilgrim may well refuse the subsidy because it shall be an insignificant amount as compared to the total cost of Haj! More pilgrims may then take to normal commercial flights and perform Haj through the Haj Tour Operators, if indeed they offer better terms than the Haj Committee as Mr. Moradabadi has stated. The Government, however, need to regulate the Haj Tour Operators in the interest of the pilgrims.
Haj subsidy - fact or fiction
By Maasoom Moradabadi
The government has decided to gradually do away with the subsidy granted to those intending to go for Haj pilgrimage by air. Grounds are very subtly being prepared for this purpose. When the decision is finally taken, the Haj fare will go up from Rs 12,000 (at present) to Rs 36,000/. Government claims that it spends an amount of Rs 150 crores every year on subsidy to Haj pilgrims. However, if ground realities are considered in this connection, a fictitious aspect of this ‘benevolence’ will become apparent.
Has the government so far been hoodwinking Muslims in matter of Haj subsidy? Is the government’s granting subsidy on air journey, which is so widely publicised and propagated, doing any favour on them? We shall review this later in this article but first let us examine the steps that are proposed to be taken by the government in doing away with this subsidy.
Communalists have always been taunting Muslims that they perform Haj on account of subsidy being granted by the government. Fascist organisations like VHP and Bajrang Dal have repeatedly been demanding that Haj subsidy should be abolished. These organisations have become even more vocal in their demand ever since NDA government led by BJP has come to power at the Centre. Succumbing to their ever increasing demand and pressure the government has finally decided to abolish this subsidy for good within the next two years.
Action for gradual abolition of subsidy is being initiated from this year itself. It is expected that soon announcement will be made to deprive those prospective pilgrims of this concession who pay income tax and also those who want to go for Haj for the second or third time. Moreover, government intends to cut down the annual quota of Haj pilgrims from the present 72,000 to 50,000. This clearly implies that the pilgrims who have so far been paying Rs 12,000/= for air journey will now have to pay three times more and that they will be deprived of all other facilities and concessions which they had been getting in this connection.
Government has not so far clarified whether it will be abolishing the subsidy only for Haj pilgrims or it intends to reduce or do away with the subsidy or concessions to pilgrims for Kumbh Fair or such other religious pilgrimages. It may be stated in this connection that the central government grants a subsidy of Rs 1200 crores for every Kumbh Fair at Allahabad and necessary arrangements in this connection. This amount does not include crores of rupees incurred by the government on other major or minor programmes and religious functions.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Omar Abdullah, who is also looking after the Haj related matters recently announced in the Haj Conference held in Srinagar that the government is trying to gradually do away with the Haj subsidy because a discussion is going on among Muslims on the question of subsidy whereas the Qur’an clearly states in this connection that this (Haj) is incumbent on those who have the capacity to perform it.
He also said in the Haj Conference that ‘We may possibly do this (abolition of subsidy) from the year 2004’. On this occasion chief minister Farooq Abdullah said that unless Muslims do not learn to depend upon themselves, organisations like RSS will continue to degrade and taunt them. He supported the idea of abolition of subsidy and proposed many steps for bringing about reform in the Haj arrangements.
Achievements of Haj Committee
So far as subsidies on air travels of Haj pilgrims are concerned, some fundamental problems must be taken into account. Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India had started Haj subsidy for journey by ship which is now stopped. Now more than one lakh pilgrims from India go for Haj by air. Out of this, around 72,000 pilgrims go through Haj Committee and the rest go through private tour operators. Arrangements made by the Haj Committee for prospective Hajis are always butt of criticism and on many occasions serious allegations on account of mismanagement and corruption have been made against the Haj Committee. Hajis have never expressed satisfaction over the arrangements and facilities made for them by the Haj Committee or the Ministry of External Affair during the flight or during the period of their stay at Makka and Madina. As regards the arrangements made for their boarding and lodging, there have always been complaints.
On the whole, the performance and arrangements made by the Haj Committee cannot be described as satisfactory. The present Haj Committee is headed by a member of BJP’s national executive committee, Tanvir Ahmad who is basically a political person. Ever since he has taken over the reins of the Haj Committee, some leaders of BJP and organisations like RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc have become much more vocal in their demand for abolition of Haj subsidy, but whenever questions were put to them about their demand and to clarify their stand, they kept mum. However, the steps likely to be taken by the government to abolish subsidy can be judged from the following:
Steps to end subsidy
Parliament’s Standing Committee on Transport and Tourism has recently recommended that the subsidy given to Haj pilgrims on air travel should be reduced and later on abolished completely.
Expenditure Reforms Commission of Government of India too has recommended in its 10th report submitted in September 2001 that steps should be taken to end subsidy on charter flights for Haj and also to reduce the quota of Hajis.
Central cabinet has asked the ministry of civil aviation to submit to it a policy paper together with its proposals for reducing the number of Hajis and also the subsidy.
In reply to a question in Rajya Sabha in March this year government assured that the proposal to end subsidy in the next few years is under consideration.
According to M. Afzal, secretary in the minority cell of Congress, NDA government under BJP’s leadership has very cleverly and subtly taken several steps during the past two years or so to end subsidy.
Meeting of Muslim MPs
Union minister for civil aviation, Shah Nawaz Husain had called a meeting of Muslims MPs to consider the problems of ending Haj subsidy gradually and also to reduce the annual quota of Hajis. He tried to give the impression that BJP government is the biggest sympathiser and well-wisher of Muslims but the arguments and data presented by him in this connection exposed his political compulsions and immaturity. However, nothing could be decided unanimously about gradual abolition of subsidy. As regards the increase in fare, it is reliably learnt that an increase of Rs 4000, i.e., from Rs 12,000 to Rs 16,000, was favoured because there was no revision in the fare ever since 1994. Those who attended this meeting included, among others, PM Sayeed, C.K. Jafar Sharief, G.M. Banatwala, Saleem Sherwani etc.
The problem of granting Haj subsidy to pilgrims of 50 years and above and to reduce annual quota from 72,000 to 50,000 came up for discussion in this meeting but nothing was finally decided. In any case, subsidy will be reduced. This proposal is in fact nothing new. Government has been considering this problem for more than a year. Proposal to this effect is expected to be submitted to the Union cabinet for implementation from this year itself.
Government’s decision to gradually do away with the subsidy is based on the recommendations of 10th Expenditure Reforms Commission which recommended that the number of beneficiaries of subsidy should be reduced and should be frozen at the current level. Similarly, subsidy on charter fare also should be frozen at the current level.
Haj Subsidy: An eye-wash
If a deeper study of the so-called Haj subsidy is made, it will become apparent that it is simply an eye-wash. Facts which the Ministry of External Affairs is concealing from the public in the name of subsidy are that the national or international carriers by which pilgrims are flown to Jeddah from different Indian cities are chartered ones which the Haj Committee hires.
According to air travel rules, if a person travels in his individual capacity, he has to pay full fair but for group travel, fares are considerably reduced. If the entire plane is hired on charter, fares are reduced to even less than half.
The fundamental question is: when the pilgrims are taken to Saudi Arabia by chartered flights where is the question of subsidy? The per head fare will even otherwise be half or less than that, subsidy or no subsidy.
The other day government was blamed for paying huge amounts to Air India in order to make up its losses on account of subsidy but in the light of above facts it is nothing but a ruse to befool Muslims and also to give the communalists a tool to defame and taunt Muslims. What is needed is that a high level enquiry should be made to investigate all these tall talks of subsidy to Haj pilgrims and to which head this ‘subsidy’ is apportioned. q
By OMAR KHALIDI
India is among the top 10 countries sending most Hajis. Until early 1960s when Bombay was connected to Jeddah by air, most pilgrims went by boats run by Mogul Line Ltd., a British-controlled company. In 1975, the Shipping Corporation of India, a government undertaking, took over Mogul Line. The oil crisis of the early 1970s made the cost of sea fare higher than air fare, so the ships were abandoned. Instead, the GOI gave Air India monopoly over Haj travel in 1975. The oil crisis further escalated the cost of air fare forcing the government to introduce “Haj subsidy” to Air India, not to the individual, pious pilgrim.
Who exactly pays the Haj subsidy to Air India? Is it the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) or the Ministry of Civil Aviation? What is the exact amount? Does it change annually? These are matters of detail, but irrelevant to the principle that State should not subsidise religious pilgrimage of any kind to any place irrespective of religion.
In this particular case, the canard that the State is paying Muslims to perform Haj has done immense damage to an already demonised community. A senior Muslim leader like Syed Shahabuddin and the young Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, have both expressed the will of the community to terminate the subsidy. The impediment to Haj subsidy abolition lies squarely with Air India, a state corporation. The Government of India, through the Central Haj Committee, should invite biddings from various airlines in India for Haj group travel and designate the lowest bidder as the official carrier of the Haj passengers.
The second matter in which the GOI is involved in Muslim pilgrimage is the Haj Goodwill Delegation. It originated in the aftermath of 1965 war with Pakistan. During the Haj, Pakistani diplomats and officials used the occasion of the international Muslim gathering to present their perspective on the Kashmir conflict. The MEA decided to counter the Pakistani version of the conflict by sending a Haj Goodwill Delegation to Mecca, obviously at state expense. Since its inception in 1966, it is led by a union minister who meets his Saudi counterpart and others.
No goodwill generated
The delegation consisted of five members. Now its numbers have shot up to 70, including spouses of the delegates. The corridors of power, the chambers of ministers and the houses of MPs in New Delhi are filled with aspirants to Haj delegation. The aspirants are mostly self-seeking politicians, unemployed, unemployable maulanas and maulavis seeking a free ride at the tax-payers’ expense. This year, the Centre has budgeted as much as Rs. 6 crores for the delegation’s cost of travel, accommodation, and incidental expenses. The official Haj delegation strains the resources of the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah, whose primary duty during the Haj is to look after the well-being of pilgrims. Instead, they are compelled to tend to the whims of the rich and powerful politicians masquerading as Muslim leaders. It is time to abolish the Haj goodwill delegation. There must be more imaginative ways of accomplishing the original purpose-- countering Pakistani versions of the Kashmir conflict. The delegations are not earning the goodwill of Indian Muslims.
Haj subsidy: let Ulema spell out its stand
NAWAB MOHAMMED ABDUL ALI
‘Haj hijacked,’ by Omar Khalidi, (The Hindu, Open Page, October 4, 2009) was meaningful, interesting and informative. On several occasions I have raised my voice against subsidy for the Haj.
From a religious point of view, let me quote two Hadith (authentic sayings of the Holy Prophet, PBUH) from the book Haj, Umrah and Ziarath, by an eminent Islamic scholar from Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Bin Baz:
“One should arrange for his expenses of Haj and Umrah out of his or dependent progeny lawful earnings, as commanded by the Holy Prophet (PBUH)”, “Allah is pure and He accepts only what is pure” (page 14).
“A pilgrim should avoid the earnings of others and not seek others monetary help” (page 23).
Every Muslim who wants to go for Haj must keep in mind these two Hadith. Further, in the Holy Koran in Sura Imran (Sura 3) verse 97 it is clearly stated that Haj is incumbent on those who can undertake the journey. The words “can undertake” prohibit going to Haj on subsidy assistance, because it is not pilgrim’s lawful earnings, but someone else’s earnings.
The question is: “Is it morally and ethically correct to undertake Haj pilgrimage on subsidy?” Let the learned Ulema, Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals clarify whether performing Haj by availing of the subsidy is permissible or not under Shariat (Islamic Law).I am writing this with the utmost respect to every individual Muslim, and it is not my intention to embarrass anybody embarking on Haj pilgrimage, at any level. It is disturbing to religious beliefs, and should be corrected by the Ulema by issuing the right fatwa in the light of the Holy Koran and Hadith. No country in the world, including Muslim countries, perhaps offers Haj subsidy.
Even the High Court of Lahore in a 1997 judgment said it is un-Islamic to avail of subsidy and perform Haj. I am sure the authorities concerned will agree that spending about Rs. 400 crore (which may go up in future) for 0.06 per cent of Muslim population is justifiable.
The Government has to devise some other alternative if it really wants to help Muslims, and let the subsidy amount be used for constructive and meaningful welfare measures for the community.
One of the senior Indian politicians recently asked me what was wrong in offering Haj subsidy? The question is not what is wrong but whether it is right.
(The writer is Prince of Arcot.)