It was heartening to notice that the Muslim community did not react emotionally to the move of the BJP led Central government to abolish the Haj subsidy. The motivating factor was the basic tenet of Islam that the cost of the Haj pilgrimage should be borne by the pilgrim himself and it is not binding on them to perform the Haj if they cannot afford it. The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the government to phase out the subsidy in 10 years and its decision was based on the understanding that the subsidy was against Islamic tenets.
Muslim leaders, including those who were part of the earlier Congress-led government, also did not oppose the scrapping of subsidy saying that the subsidy was in fact going to Air India which was facing a serious financial crunch. This actually means that the subsidy which was allocated to the pilgrims for a specific purpose was diverted to Air India with bloated fares. In that case, the question arises as to why these leaders did not question this financial impropriety all these years while the Muslim community was facing the flak of appeasement. Does it mean that the community was taken for a ride? That the Central Haj Committee also never tried to bring the true facts to light exposes the lack of transparency in dealing with Haj matters.
Now, we are told that the subsidy was mainly in the form of subsidised fares offered by Air India. But the fact remains that Air India was charging fares higher than what were available in the open market. If this is true, the Haj Committee rates for the ensuing Haj should become cheaper without the subsidy. Will this happen? We have to wait and see. The authorities should also scrap the huge official delegations accompanying the pilgrims as they have no role to play other than enjoying a free pilgrimage.
The Haj Committee of India has an obligation to make the accounts public for the entire money collected from the pilgrims and spent by it for organising the Haj pilgrimage. We expect the Central Haj Committee and the State Haj Committee to observe austerity in their expenditure and to follow transparency.
Syed Tahsin Ahmed