The Union cabinet has shot down the proposal to hike airfares for Haj pilgrims. The round fare to Jeddah and Medina and back will stay at Rs 12,000 per pilgrim. It had been proposed to raise the fare to Rs 16,000 in view of the steep increase of global fuel prices and an imposition of airport tax of 50 riyals (about Rs 525) per pilgrim by Saudi Arabia.
Union Minister and Cabinet spokesperson Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said the Cabinet did not agree to the fare rise “in keeping with the commitment of the United Progressive Alliance government to protect and promote the welfare of the Muslim community.” The Haj airfare has remained constant since 1994, and the overall subsidy costs the nation, on average, around Rs 350 crore each year.
The simple question is does the government move to not raise airfares make economic sense? If neighbouring Pakistan—an Islamic Republic poorer than India—can charge Pakistani Rs 38,500 (approximately Rs 24, 950) per pilgrim as airfare, and Bangladesh can charge the equivalent of $950 (Rs38,000), is there any reason, bar the political, for the secular Indian government to charge half-fare? Does it make sense to charge the same airfare on rich and poor Muslims?
On the other hand, if the BJP-led NDA could not muster the strength to tackle the issue, is it fair to pick on the Congress-led UPA?