An Outlook on Haj Subsidies

By | January 26, 2018
An Outlook on Haj Subsidies

Last Updated :

Haj

According to Quran, the Haj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims, which is a mandatory religious obligation for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.

Haj Subsidiary

It is a financial aid or a compensatory amount to make some fee or price, affordable, for the consumers. The Government of India subsidizes the price of the air ticket for Haj pilgrims, taking a flight to Saudi Arabia, by Air India. A petty amount of Rupees Ten thousand or so is sanctioned by the government for every pilgrim, flying for Haj. But, in practice, this amount is not directly paid to the travelers but transferred to Air India.

History of Haj Subsidiary

During the British Raj, on 1st October 1932, the Port Haj Committees Act of 1932 was passed, to establish Committees in the principal ports of pilgrim traffic, to assist the Muslim Pilgrims to Hedjaz. It envisaged the constitution of Port Haj Committee, Calcutta and Port Haj Committee, Bombay.

On 17th December 1959, the Haj Committee Act of 1959 (No.51 of 1959), was passed repealing the earlier Act, to establish a Committee in the Port of Bombay for assisting Muslim Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran & Jordan and for matters connected therewith and the Act envisaged constitution of Haj Committee (India) with 21 embarkation points such as Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Calicut, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Aurangabad, Varanasi, Indore, Ranchi…etc.

With the introduction of more & more Embarkation Points, the management of Haj also expanded and it was felt necessary to have appropriate representation from all parts of the country in the Haj Committee of India. As a result, Haj Committee Act 2002 (No.35 of 2002) has been passed. It envisaged representation in the Haj Committee of India from all parts of the country with a schedule indicating six zonal points.

Haj Committee

Haj Committee of India is an autonomous body, constituted under the Act of Parliament. It is presently working under Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi.

It is established for making arrangement for the pilgrimage of Muslims for Haj. The Committee has its headquarters at Mumbai and Association Office at New Delhi, the

Committee Members

  • Three Member of Parliament of whom two are to be nominated by the speaker of the house of the people from among its Muslim Members and one by the Chairman of the Council of states from among its Muslim Members. Provided that a Member of Parliament shall, upon ceasing to be a Member, of the Committee and the Speaker of the house of the people or the Chairman of the Council of States, as the case may be shall make a fresh nomination upon request by the Central Government.
  • Nine Muslim Member of the Committee shall be elected, three from those States sending largest number of pilgrims during last three years and one each from the zones as specialized in the schedule, in such manner as may be prescribed provided that not more than one member shall be elected from a state falling in the zone as specified in the schedule.
  • Four persons not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India nominated by that Government to represent the Ministry of External Affairs, Home, Finance, and Civil Aviation as Ex-Officio Members.
  • Seven Muslim Members shall be nominated by the Central Government from among the following categories of persons namely.
    • Two Member who has a special knowledge of public administration, finance, education culture or social work and out of whom one shall be a Shia Muslim.
    • Two Women Members out of them one shall be Shia Muslim.
    • Three Members who have special knowledge of Muslim theology and law, out of them one shall be a Shia Muslim.

Term of Office

The term of office of the Members of the Committee (other than Ex-Officio Members and Members filling casual vacancies) shall be three years commencing on the day following the publication of the list of Members.

Duties of Committee

  • To collect and disseminate information useful to pilgrims and to arrange orientation and training programmes for pilgrims.
  • To advise and assist pilgrims during their stay at the embarkation points in India. While proceeding to or returning from a pilgrimage in all matter including vaccination inoculation, medical inspection issue of pilgrim passes and foreign exchange and to liaise with local authorities concerned in such matters.
  • To give relief to pilgrims in distress.
  • To finalize the annual Haj Plan with the approval of the Central Government and execute the plan including the arrangements for travel by air or any other means and to advise on matters relating to accommodations.
  • To approve the budget estimates of the Committee and submit it to the Central Government at least 3 months before the beginning of the financial year for its concurrence.
  • To co-ordinate with Central Government Railway, Airways and Travel Agencies for the purpose of securing traveling facilities for pilgrims.
  • To generally look after the welfare of the pilgrims.
  • To publish such proceedings of the Committee and such matter of interest to pilgrims as may be determined by laws made in this behalf by the Committee.
  • To discharge such other duties in connection with Haj as may be prescribed by the Central Government.

Challenge of Constitutionality of Haj Subsidy

We know India is a secular country and celebrates its unity in diversity, but to what extent it is appropriate to provide a subsidy policy to a particular community, in this case, Muslims.

The question came up in Supreme Court in 2011 in Prafull Goradia vs Union of India[1] which dismissed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Haj Committee Act, which provides for the grant of a government subsidy for pilgrimage every year. The bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra rejected the contention that such a grant violated Articles 14 and 15 and in particular Article 27 and said that ‘we must not be too rigid in these matters, and must give some free play to the joints of the State machinery. A balanced view has to be taken here, and we cannot say that even if one paisa of Government money is spent for a particular religion there will be a violation of Article 27.’

And also pointed out that the State government incurred some expenditure for the Kumbh Mela and the Centre, for facilitating Indian citizens to go on pilgrimage to Mansarovar, etc. Similarly, some State governments provided facilities to Hindus and Sikhs to visit temples and gurdwaras in Pakistan. “These are very small expenditures in proportion to the entire tax collected. Thus there is no discrimination. Parliament has the legislative competence to enact the Haj Committee Act.”

Immeditaly in the following year, in Union of India and Others v Rafique Shaikh Bhikha and Another[2], Government of India 2011 Haj Policy that required a private operator/travel agent to have “minimum office area of 250 sq. ft.” as one of the eligibility conditions for registration for ferrying pilgrims for Hajj and challenging it the case was filled, the court held it to be a reasonable condition and also said, as regards the Haj subsidy, from the figures for the past 19 years given in the affidavit filed by the Union of India, it appears that the amount of subsidy has been increasing every year. This is on account of increase both in the number of pilgrims and the travel cost/airfare. In the year 1994, the number of pilgrims going for Hajj from India was as low as 21,035; in 2011, the number of pilgrims increased to 12,5000. In the year 1994, the cost of travel per pilgrim was only Rs. 17000.00; in the year 2011, it went up to Rs. 54800.00. As a result, the total Hajj subsidy that was Rs. 10.51 crores in the year 1994 swelled up to Rs. 685 crores in the year 2011.

And held that said that the Haj subsidy should be withdrawn gradually by 2022 and it may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development.

In accordance with it, in January 2018, Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has announced that the subsidy will be stopped, and that amount will be used for educational empowerment of girls and women in minority community.

As I already mentioned, Haj is the religious duty of the Muslim community, to what extent it is justifiable for government to help its citizens to fulfill religious obligations in a secular country like ours is debatable.


– Vaishnavi Sabhapathi

Content Writer @ Legal Bites


References

[1] (2011) 2 SCC 568.

[2] (2013) 4 SCC 699.