Indian Haj pilgrims numbering about 1.35 lakh will undertake the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia this year. The first batch of 340 Hajis from Delhi left on Thursday from the city airport's Haj terminal. The country's state-run carrier Air India will be carrying 12,500 Haj pilgrims from Delhi to Jeddah in 37 chartered flights this year.
Additionally, about 36,000 Haj pilgrims will be undertaking their pilgrimage through private tour operators, according to an official statement issued by the ministry of minority affairs on Thursday.
The first batch was seen off by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister of state for minority affairs (independent charge) and parliamentary affairs in the Narendra Modi government.
Chaudhary Mehboob Ali Qaiser, chairman, Haj Committee of India; H B Kazmi, Haj Committee of India Member and Delhi Coordinator; and Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi were also present at the occasion.
The first batch from Jammu and Kashmir will fly on Aug. 10. In all, about 6,500 Muslims will be undertaking Haj from the state this year.
"As many as 6445 pilgrims will perform Haj this year, for which the first batch in two flights will depart from Srinagar airport to the holy city of Madina in Saudi Arabia on August 10. This process will continue till August 19," PTI quoted an official spokesman as saying in Srinagar on July 29.
The amount given by the government of India to Muslims for Haj is on the decline in line with a 2012 Supreme Court order to phase them out in 10 years.
The two-judge bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai that delivered the judgement said: "...we have no doubt that a very large majority of Muslims applying to the Haj Committee for going to Hajj would not be aware of the economics of their pilgrimage and if all the facts are made known a good many of the pilgrims would not be very comfortable in the knowledge that their Hajj is funded to a substantial extent by the Government...We remind ourselves that the holy Quran in verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran."
"We, therefore, direct the Central Government to progressively reduce the amount of subsidy so as to completely eliminate it within a period of 10 years from today. The subsidy money may be more profitably used for upliftment of the community in education and other indices of social development," the judges said.
The Haj subsidy, according to the judges, went up from Rs. 10.51 crore in 1994 to Rs. 685 crore in 2011 due to the increase in air fares.
The Haj fare is based on tenders floated by the civil aviation ministry and the subsidy is decided accordingly.
"The Ministry of Civil Aviation floats a tender to select an airline to get a competitive fare to ferry the Haj pilgrims. For the year 2010, the fare per pilgrim was Rs.47,675/- and in 2011 was Rs.54,800/-."
"During the Haj of 2011, each pilgrim was charged Rs.16,000/- towards airfare 20 Page 21 and the additional amount of Rs.38,000/- per Haji is what is termed "subsidy". It is submitted that the subsidy is given only to those pilgrims who go through the Haj Committee of India," the judges said.