No Haj flights from Srinagar now

TNN Bureau. Updated: 10/8/2017 1:39:49 AM Front Page

Haj subsidy to be abolished, major reforms to be introduced

JAMMU: Come 2018 and the Haj pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir will have to take the flight to Saudi Arabia from nine other embarkation points, the nearest one being New Delhi, as the proposed Haj policy for next four years has the summer capital of state among 12 others excluded from the list of such points, bringing the number down to 9 from 21.
Suggesting a number of major reforms in the Haj policy 2018-22, the appointed panel has also recommended the government to abolish the subsidy for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mekkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia besides allowing women devotees aged over 45 to travel in a group of at least four without a male relative.
Confirming the proposals, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that Centre would abolish the subsidy for Haj pilgrims in accordance with a Supreme Court order, adding that the money saved would be used for the educational empowerment of the Muslim community.
"A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime in 2012, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with. Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Haj subsidy gradually," he told.
Earlier in the day, a panel headed by former secretary Afzal Amanullah and appointed by government to frame the new Haj Policy, submitted the proposals to Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Saturday wherein it stated to follow the existing reduction plan, gradually phasing out the subsidy given by government to pilgrims taking on the journey through the Haj Committee of India.
The proposals by the committee have been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court direction to gradually reduce and completely remove the subsidy by 2022. The subsidy amount has in the recent years been between Rs 650-700 crore, and it is being demanded to abolish it completely, thus relieving government the huge expenses it bears every year.
The other major reforms suggested by panel include partially quashing an earlier rule that barred women Haj aspirants to travel without 'mehram', a close family member like husband, father or brother.
"Ladies above 45 years of age be allowed in a group of four or more to go for Haj without a mehram," the panel recommended.
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.
Among other recommendations made by the panel are bringing down the number of embarkation points from which pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia from the present 21 to nine.
The embarkation points for Haj pilgrims from next year would be New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kochi and Ahmedabad.
The distribution of quota between Haj Committee of India and private tour operators will be in the ratio of 70:30 -- almost a five percent hike for the private players.
This year, the Haj quota for India -- home to the world's third largest Muslim population -- was increased to 170,025, of which 125,025 was allocated to the Haj committee and 45,000 to the private tour operators.
On the long-pending proposal to revive Haj pilgrimage by ship, Naqvi said the Saudi government would be consulted and then it would float an expression of interest to guage the market for such travel.
Independent tour operators say travel by ship would drastically reduce the cost per pilgrim to around Rs 60,000, making it affordable to a larger section of the population.
Regarding the distribution of Haj quota among states and union territories, the panel has recommended that it should be in the ratio of the Muslim population and in proportion to the number of applications received from each state or union territory.
Special quota for Haj pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir will be increased from existing 1,500 to 2,000.
The reserved category of applicants in the 70-plus age group and fourth-timers has been abolished and they would go through the normal lottery.

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