A central government appointed panel has recommended abolishing Hajj subsidy as part its new draft billed as Haj Policy 2018-22.
It said, “It is advisable that the existing reduction plan (phasing out of subsidy) be followed.”
Headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah, the committee also recommended allowing women pilgrims above 45 years to travel in a group of at least four without a male. “Ladies above 45 years of age be allowed in a group of four or more to go for Haj without a mehram,” IANS quoted the panel’s recommendations..
Women below 45, however, will have to be accompanied by a male family member, according to the draft policy that proposes to increase the quota for mehrams from 200 to 500.
The panel also favoured bringing down the number of embarkation points (EPs) from which pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia from the present 21 to nine.
The draft was submitted to Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in Delhi on Saturday. “The 2018 Haj pilgrimage will be in line with the new Haj policy. It is a better policy, looking at the facilities proposed. It will be a transparent, people-friendly policy. It will ensure safety and security of pilgrims,” Naqvi was quoted by PTI.
The policy has been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to abolish the Haj subsidy gradually by 2022, sources in the ministry said.
Till now, women pilgrims could not travel without a male Mehram. The term Mehram refers to a male a woman cannot marry at anytime in her life (i.e. father, brother or son etc) Women aged below 45, however, will have to be accompanied by male Mehrams, according to the policy. It proposes to increase the quota for Mehrams from 200 to 500.
The cut in funds meant for subsidy will be used for educational empowerment and welfare of Muslims, a source in the ministry said.
The policy suggests sending pilgrims by ship, relatively less expensive than flights. The policy says the Saudi government will be consulted regarding Haj travel by ship and thereafter floating an EOI (expression of interest) to gauge the market for such travel.
According to the policy, the nine EPs will be Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Cochin. It also proposes to build suitable Haj houses at these EPs “to which states and districts will be tagged properly”.
“EPs are being reduced keeping in mind ship journeys. It proposes inviting global expressions of interest from vessel owners having a capacity of 4,000 plus passengers… Even if 10 such trips are made to Saudi Arabia, 40,000 to 50,000 pilgrims can easily be ferried,” the source added.
The proposed policy aims at rationalising distribution of the Haj quota between the Haj Committee of India and private tour operators in the ratio of 70:30 for the next five years.
It also stresses on breaking the cartel of contractors with a transparent bidding process. India has an annual Haj quota of 1.70 lakh devotees.
The policy also proposes to ensure the stay of all Indian Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia within Mina. Sources said the report will be examined in the ministry and shared with all concerned for implementation of the accepted recommendations from Haj 2018 onwards.