Guest post by MUHAMMAD FAROOQ
Recently the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of extending subsidy on air fare to the Hajj Pilgrims. This year Rs.280 Crores were reportedly spent by the Government of India to subsidise the air fare of one lakh pilgrims. This amounts to a subsidy of Rs.28000/- per pilgrim. The subsidy provided to the pilgrims has understandably generated a lot of debate within political and social circles in India. While the right wing political parties, when not in power, consider it as an unnecessary appeasement of Indian Muslims, the governments formed by any party have always seen it as a necessary expenditure to help Muslims perform their religious obligation of Hajj.
Since I have also performed my Hajj this year, I decided to do some quick calculations to check the veracity of the tall claims made by the GoI and the Hajj Committee regarding the subsidy amount (see box). The results were quite shocking. I checked with one of the service providers —‘makemytrip.com’— and it showed up the Saudi Airline’s fare of a little over Rs.26000/- for a return Delhi-Jeddah ticket with a gap of around forty days. It was amazing to find that the total airfare of Rs.26,000 for a hajj pilgrimage is even lower than the subsidy amount of Rs.28,000 thousand which is allegedly paid by GoI to airlines to subsidise the “high cost” of the air tickets.
While applying for the Hajj visit, I had opted for the first class (Green) accommodation and paid Rs 1.25 Lakhs to the government for the same. If the Government of India has paid Rs.28000/- for my airfare, then what did I pay the huge amount of Rs.1,25,000/- for?
Out of the said Rs.1,25,000/- I received a foreign exchange of SR 2100/- roughly equivalent to INR 25000/-. Out of the balance INR 1,00,000 or SR 8500, Rs 43750 /person (SR 3500) were charged for a month long stay in Makkah. I was staying there in Building No.557 (at Ajiad Road) which housed a total of 119 pilgrims. Notably this amount is payable to the Muallim (local guide) who obviously pays only a part of it to the owner of the building.
In Madina I was lodged in a three/four star hotel in which a triple occupancy room was occupied by six of us. The normal rent for the room is SR 300/- per night. In principle, the rent chargeable to us should have been less than that, since six people were lodged in a room meant for only three. Also, as the entire tourism of the holy cities of Makkah and Madina is religious – there is almost no scope for any extra charges on add-ons like entertainment etc. Even then, if we consider being charged SR 100/person a day for the stay, the amount totals to SR 1000 or INR 12500 for a ten days stay. It is important to mention here that the food during their stay in the holy cities is managed by the pilgrims themselves.
Add the cost of the ticket of Rs.26,000/- or SR 2200/-, to it, and the unaccounted for balance of the amount deposited by me with the government comes Rs.16,000 or SR 1280. Where was this money spent by the government? Not the least on the very little transport and tent facility for those few days of Hajj. As presumably, the same were included in the charges of the Muallim mentioned earlier. It goes without saying that the transport cost is very low in Saudi Arabia, the Visa is free, and the sacrificial animal is purchased by the pilgrims on their own.
Add to this the “subsidy amount” of Rs.28000, and one is kept wondering shockingly where do the Rs.440 Crores (Rs.44,000 per pilgrim) go every year.
|Amount Paid by the pilgrim||SR 10,000||Rs 1,25,000|
|Amount refunded via forex||SR 2100||Rs 25,000|
|Rent Charges at Makkah||SR 3500||Rs 43,750|
|Rent charges at madina||SR 1000||Rs 12,500|
|Cost of to & fro Ticket||SR 2080||Rs 26,000|
|Total expenses+ refund||SR 8680||Rs 1,08,500|
|Money Unaccounted for||SR 3520||A. Rs 16,000 (1.25-1.09 L)
B. Rs28000 (SubsidyAmount)
Total: Rs 44,000
* Exchange rate applied: 1 SR=Rs 12.5
More importantly, the unabashed duplicity of the government and its arms is exposed every year by private operators who offer similar Hajj Tours at an economical cost of Rs.1.00 Lac which includes providing food to the pilgrims as well. The private operators will obviously still be making profits.
Against this background only one reason survives about the annual use – nay, misuse – of Rs.280 crores by the honourable Government of India and that is ‘Corruption’. One can only wish this amount is used to feed some, if not all, of the starving to whom the Prime Minister had recently said: “Sorry, I can’t help you!” As for the Muslims, Hajj is not to be performed by the one who does not have the wherewithal for it.
(Correction: This article earlier mentioned the total Hajj subsidy as being Rs. 28,000 crores rather than Rs. 280 crores. The error is regretted.)