"There is no demand for the subsidy. The Haj becomes necessary only if you can afford it - physically as well as financially. If the government wants to end it (the subsidy), I will more than welcome that," Maulana Abdul Hamid Nomani, spokesperson of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, said.
Asked if Islamic law allows the subsidy, Nomani said Indian Muslims, like members from other communities, also pay taxes and thus have a stake in the resources.
"No government official or politician pays it from his own pocket. Subsidy is not prohibited as such, but the money which they spend on subsidising the pilgrimage can be used for other purposes equally noble as Haj," said the leader of the Jamiat, one of the leading and oldest Muslim organisations in India, founded in 1919.
The remarks come as the government is said to have moved a proposal to phase out the multi-crore rupees subsidy in the airfare for Muslim pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Makkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
In 2008, the government said it had to shell out Rs.826 crore for about 100,000 Muslim pilgrims.
The External Affairs Ministry, the nodal agency for Haj, has sent the proposal to the civil aviation, finance and minority affairs ministries for their response.
Even as the move may cause displeasure among the 14 million Muslim population in India, many scholars from the minority community like Nomani welcomed the move to phase out the subsidy saying the government should bring in more transparency to the system.
"They are not doing any favour to Muslims, you should understand that," Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari, who leads prayers in Delhi's Jama Masjid, said.
"Why would anybody want to travel with Air India knowing how pathetic their service is," he said, adding the government generates revenue through the subsidy scheme and gives a discount on "overpriced tickets".
He said the government should invite tenders from global airlines where all bid competitively. "And you will see the ticket prices would be much lower than what Air India charges," Bukhari said.
The Air India Haj ticket, he said, costs Rs.40,000, but if you travel to Saudi Arabia by other airlines it will cost around Rs.20,000.
The national carrier, Bukhari said, "runs at a loss and the Haj programme makes up for their losses in the name of subsidy to Muslims. Let them do away with it. It is a good step. I don't think anybody will oppose it."
Echoing the same view, Syed Yousuf, a guest teacher in the capital's Jamia Millia university, said: "If the government is serious about doing away with the subsidy it is good for Muslims. They can travel at lesser cost. Plus the government should use this money on other issues like education, drinking water, welfare of Muslims if they want to do any favour to the community."
New Delhi: If the government wants to do away with the subsidy for Haj pilgrims it is fine, some leading Muslims feel, but they want transparency and privatisation of the pilgrimage programme.
First Published: Saturday, April 10, 2010, 17:38