Haj subsidy to be abolished by 2018, draft Haj policy submitted to Centre

Mumbai: A ministry of minority affairs committee on Saturday submitted a draft Haj policy to the Centre suggesting slew of reforms in the existing policy including immediate abolition of the Haj subsidy and allowing women devotees above the age of 45 years to undertake the pilgrimage without any male mehram (close relative) in a group of four or more.

The five-member panel of the special Haj committee, tasked with drafting a new policy for the pilgrimage between 2018 and 2022. In 2012, Supreme Court has asked the Centre to gradually abolish the Haj subsidy by 2022 in an order.

The panel headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah, also recommends bringing down the number of embarkation points (EPs) from which pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia from the present 21 to nine in a bid to cut down government spending on Haj.

The policy draft was submitted to Union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is on a two-day visit to Mumbai said that the government will review the recommendations and come up with the final draft.

“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,” said Naqvi.

The committee members said that the draft policy will allow the central government, which has already substantially reduced the subsidy, to quash it altogether within a year. “We had to find ways to reduce government spending,” said Kamal Faruqui, a member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AMPLB) and one of the committee members.

For the tour operators, the committee suggested that the quota be distributed in a 70:30 ratio between the Haj Committee and private tour operators (PTOs).

The panel also recommended an amendment in the Haj Committee Act to extend Umra and Ziyarat to Syria, Iran Iraq and Jordan.

Major recommendations of the Committee 

Policy for Haj Committee of India

  • Distribution of quota between Haj Committee of India (HCoI) and Private Tour Operators (PTOs) to be rationalised in the ratio of 70:30 for the next 5 years.
  • Seats among the States/ Union Territories to be distributed in the ratio of their Muslim population as well as in proportion to the number of applications received.
  • Quota for Mehram to be increased from 200 to 500.
  • Special quota for Jammu & Kashmir to be increased from 1500 to 2000.
  • States/ UTs receiving less than 500 applications to get priority in distribution of surplus seats.
  • Reserved category of applicants viz. 70+ and 4th timers to be abolished.
  • Ladies above 45 years of age to be allowed in a group of 4 or more to go for Haj without Mehram.
  • Adahi coupons to be made compulsory for each pilgrim.
  • Embarkation Points (EPs) to be reduced from 21 to 9 which are (1) Delhi (2) Lucknow (3) Kolkata (4) Ahmedabad (5) Mumbai (6) Chennai (7) Hyderabad (8) Bengaluru and (9) Cochin. Suitable Haj houses to be built at these EPs. States/Districts to be tagged with each EP properly.
  • Facilities created in discontinued EPs to be used for round the year training, orientation of pilgrims and other productive uses for the community.
  • Saudi Government to be consulted regarding Haj travel by ship and thereafter floating an EOI to gauge the market for such travel.

Policy for Private Tour Operators

  • A robust portal to be developed for processing of PTO applications.
  • A committee of 2-3 experts to consider representations of PTOs aggrieved by Haj Division’s decisions.
  • PTOs to be categorised in three categories in accordance with their experience and financial strength. The PTO quota to be divided in the ratio 30:40:30 among the three categories with the provision of allocation of seats in the ratio 200:100:50 to the individual PTOs.
  • A comprehensive empanelment policy for the PTOs to be formulated that would facilitate easier and quicker renewals. Empanelment to be done on the basis of documents as well as physical inspection of the PTOs. Stringent norms to be followed for blacklisting and forfeiture of security deposit of PTOs.
  • PTOs to collect full package costs from pilgrims through bank accounts only and render details to the Ministry before departure of pilgrims from India.
  • Each PTO to have a proper website with pre decided disclosure norms.
  • Nomenclature of PTO to be changed to Haj Group Organiser (HGO).