Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca September 6, 2016.Reuters

The Central government, on Tuesday, February 27, announced that it was slashing airfares for pilgrims travelling to Mecca for Hajj this year. The decision comes a month after the centre scrapped the subsidy that it used to provide to Hajj pilgrims.

Calling the decision a "major step" that would end the "political and economic exploitation of Haj performers," minister for the minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the airfares would make things much more reasonable for pilgrims.

"The PMO took a keen interest in this (bringing down the rates). The decision is in line with our empowerment without appeasement policy," the Press Trust of India quoted Naqvi as saying.

Tickets from Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai to Medina would now cost Rs 20,000 lesser and have been pegged about Rs 57,857 as opposed to Rs 98, 750 in 2014.

Naqvi also said that these airfares are inclusive of the Goods and Services Tax. 

Hajj subsidy was scrapped just a few days ago 

On January 17, 2018, the Central government has announced that it would withdraw all the subsidies provided to Hajj pilgrims. The government, at the time, used to provide a discount on Air India tickets, assistance to reach designed Haj departure terminals and assistance in meals and lodging.

However, all these facilities were withdrawn and Naqvi said that the Modi-government intended to empower the minority community with dignity.

"We believe in empowerment without appeasement," NDTV had quoted Naqvi as saying. "Development with dignity is what we believe in." He had then explained that the funds used for providing these subsidies would now be used for educating girls. 

Hajj by ship from India

Travelling to Hajj is now also possible by ship. The practice was stopped after MV Akbari, the ship that transported pilgrims, was put out of commission, a Union Minority Affairs Ministry source told PTI.