There has been a mixed response to the Supreme Court's direction for the gradual elimination of Haj subsidy. Hyderabadis have reacted cautiously to the decision which has been in the air for quite sometime.
There has been no outright condemnation or even an open welcome to the court's verdict, which came on the eve of the ‘qurrah' being held to select Haj pilgrims for this year.
“Subsidy or no subsidy, Muslims on whom Haj has become obligatory will undertake the pilgrimage,” remarked Sabir Pasha who leads prayers at Haj House here. This is by and large the opinion of many.
Many feel that there is a wrong impression going around that the government is doing a ‘favour' on Muslims by extending the subsidy, when, in fact the benefit is cornered by Air India. For close to six months, the Government of India keeps the money collected from pilgrims in the bank and the chartered flights are booked much in advance. “Who benefits from all this,” asks Syed Sirajuddin, who has applied for Haj this year.
The Haj Committee of India pays at the rate of Rs.70,000 per ticket to Air India when the normal fare to Jeddah is between Rs.20,000 to Rs.22,000. “It is nothing but transfer of money from one department to another,” says Abid Rasool Khan, general secretary, APCC.
However, he supported the Apex court's decision and wanted the money spent on subsidy to be diverted to the Minorities Welfare Department at the Centre.
Abdul Raheem Qureshi, secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, feels it is not proper for courts to give ruling in matters of religion since the Indian society is basically religious. “Why is there a hue and cry on Haj subsidy when the government spends a great deal on Kumbh Mela and Amarnah Yatra,” he asks.
Congress MLC, Hafiz Peer Shabbir Ahmed, said that till 1984 there was no Haj subsidy and Muslims travelled by ship. It was the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who offered the subsidy and pilgrims started going by air. “It is strange that the government is withdrawing the subsidy now. But, the subsidy amount should be spent on welfare of minorities,” he said.
Many feel pilgrims will benefit if the Air India ticketing monopoly is broken. If there is competition among airlines through open ticketing, the best deal can be taken and it will work out cheaper for pilgrims, says Syed Khaleeluddin Ahmed, chairman, Haj Committee.
There is no clarity on how the subsidy will be phased out in ten years. Many feel it should have been done away with straightway.