NEW DELHI, Feb 27:
A month after it scrapped subsidies for Haj pilgrims, the Government today announced a significant reduction in airfares for devotees travelling to Saudi Arabia, with the prices of round tickets being slashed by Rs 20,000 to Rs 97,000.
Union Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi described the move as a “major step” that would end the “political and economic exploitation of Haj performers as was being done during the Congress-led UPA regime”, allegedly in the name of offering subsidies.
The Minister said the move sought to address concerns about airfares going up after the Haj subsidy was abolished last month.
“The PMO took a keen interest in this (bringing down the rates). The decision is in line with our empowerment without appeasement policy,” Naqvi told reporters here.
The Government made available details of the 2014 airfares to highlight the price difference. The 18-49 per cent reduction in rates will be available on tickets for Jeddah and Medina on national carrier Air India, Saudia and Flynas, an air carrier based in Saudi Arabia.
The maximum difference of about Rs 97,000 is on the Srinagar fare, which has almost been halved. A round ticket from the Kashmir city cost Rs 1,98,350 in 2014 and will now come for Rs 1,01,400. The minimum cut — of around Rs 20,000 — will be on a ticket from Varanasi, which is down from Rs 1,12,300 to Rs 92,004.
Haj pilgrims can leave from 20 embarkation points (EPs). Indore is another EP but there are no devotees flying out from the Madhya Pradesh city this year.
Air India will serve pilgrims from seven EPs — Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Nagpur, Varanasi, Kolkata and Srinagar. Saudi Airlines will transport devotees from another seven — Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow. Pilgrims from Aurangabad (Maharashtra), Bhopal, Gaya, Guwahati, Mangalore and Ranchi can travel by Flynas.
The airfare from Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai airports — Rs 98,750 per head in 2014 — will now cost Rs 65,015, Rs 71,853 and Rs 57,857 respectively.
After the abolition of subsidies, the Government had asked the airlines not to charge “undue” fares from Haj pilgrims, Naqvi said. “There used to be a political and economical exploitation of devotees during the UPA regime in the name of subsidy and it was shown as if a big favour was being done to them. There is no corruption, commission now,” he added. The Minister said the revised airfares were inclusive of the goods and services tax (GST).
Asked how the fares in 2017 compared with those of 2014, Naqvi said there was not much of a difference in the rates last year. The UPA-declared fares “had become the standard rates”, he said.
The Minister was also asked why the NDA Government had taken this decision now, almost four years after coming to power.
“Things were not in our hand (of his Ministry). This is only the second Haj we are overseeing. In the first Haj we introduced some reforms. Now, for the second Haj, we have announced the cut in airfares,” he said.
A total of 1.75 lakh Muslims would undertake the pilgrimage this year from India.
The Supreme Court had in 2012 asked the Government to abolish the Haj subsidy gradually by 2022. Last month, the Government said it had done away with subsidies.
In 2012, the Government gave a Haj subsidy of Rs 836.56 crore. The notional saving on account of reducing the subsidy from 2013 to 2017 was Rs 636.56 crore. (PTI)
NEW DELHI, Feb 27: