Haj policy also suggests allowing women beyond 45 to travel in a group of at least four members without a male member.
Mumbai: Eliminating subsidy for Haj pilgrims and letting women above 45 to travel in a group of at least 4 without a male member are specific of the key high points of a proposed Haj policy enlisted by a committee appointed by the Centre, representatives said.
The suggested Haj Policy 2018-22 by the panel led by former secretary Afzal Amanullah also commends bringing down the number of Embarkation Points (EPs) from which hajjis can take flights to Saudi Arabia from the present 21 to nine.
The draft succumbed to Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in Delhi on this Saturday.
Naqvi stated the next Haj pilgrimage will be in line with the recent policy, which he labeled as “better, transparent and one guaranteeing the safety of pilgrims”.
Representatives in the Minority Affairs ministry stated the policy has been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order requesting the Centre to eliminate the Haj subsidy slowly by 2022.
Mentioning to that Naqvi said, “The Supreme Court decision visibly talked about abolishing the subsidy. We are vexing our best to see that after the abolition of the Haj subsidy, the poor travelers are burdened least.”
A Ministry representative said, “The best part of the policy is abolishing the subsidy. In addition, it proposes one more major reform — of letting women aged above 45 to commence journey without male Mehram in a cluster of four.”
Till now, women pilgrims would not travel without a male Mehram. The name Mehram refers to a male a lady cannot wed at any time in her lifetime (i.e. father, brother or son etc) Women aged under 45, yet, will have to be escorted by male Mehrams, rendering to the policy.
It suggests increasing the quota for Mehrams from 200 to 500.
The cut in assets meant for a subsidy will be used for educational empowerment and welfare of Muslims, the representative said.
The policy advises sending pilgrims by ship, comparatively less expensive than flights. The policy speaks the Saudi government will be referred regarding Haj travel by ship and then floating an EOI (expression of interest) to gauge the market for such travel.
The group also suggested officially ascertaining willingness of Saudi Arabia to the tender of transportation of pilgrims by ship for the pilgrimage. Also, it said, the security fears that are present, chiefly regarding Somalian piracy and instability in Yemen and end-to-end areas need to be factored in.
Rendering to the policy, the 9 EPs will be Lucknow, Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Cochin. It also suggests building appropriate Haj houses at these EPs “to which states and districts will be marked properly”.
“EPs are being lessened keeping in mind ship trips. It proposes inviting global expressions of attention from vessel owners having an ability of 4,000 plus passengers… Also if 10 such journeys are made to Saudi Arabia, 40,000 to 50,000 pilgrims can simply be ferried,” the source said.
The draft policy also suggested that the Haj Committee of India be excused from income tax, goods and services tax (GST) and other confined taxes. The air charter services delivered for the benefit of travelers too should be exempt from service tax/GST.
The suggested policy intends at rationalizing the distribution of the Haj quota between the Haj Committee of India and private tour workers in the ratio of 70:30 for the subsequent five years. It also hassles on breaking the cartel of contractors with a transparent bidding procedure.
India has a yearly Haj quota of 1.70 lakh devotees. The policy also suggests ensuring the stay of all Indian Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in Mina.
Representatives said the report will be inspected in the ministry and shared with all concerned for execution of the accepted recommendations from Haj 2018 ahead.