Bringing about a major change in its Haj policy, the Centre has decided to restrict the number of pilgrimages to the holy towns of Mecca and Madina to “once in a lifetime”, as against the existing policy of “once in five years”. The rule will apply for pilgrims who go through the Haj Committee of India (HCOI).
Apprising the Supreme Court about the change, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said in an affidavit that the new guidelines were framed to ensure that a Haji benefits from government subsidy only once in his or her lifetime.
The apex court was hearing the MEA’s appeal against a Bombay high court order, which had last year directed the government to allot additional quota to private tour operators organising the pilgrimage. Though the SC provided the government with interim relief, it also decided to examine the MEA’s Haj pilgrimage policy.
“This is a major change that has been introduced for the first time. (We will) Restrict the number of pilgrimages to a Haj applicant through the HCOI to ‘once in a lifetime’ as against the existing ‘once in five years’. This will ensure that the Haji will benefit from government subsidy only once in his/her lifetime. It will also ensure that priority is given to applicants who have never performed Haj,” read the MEA affidavit filed through counsel Haris Beeran.
According to the affidavit, the number of pilgrims had increased from 21,035 in 1994 to 1.25 lakh in 2011. The subsidy amount per pilgrim had also shot up. While the per pilgrim government subsidy was Rs 5,000 in 1994, it had risen to Rs 38,800 last year.
According to the MEA, this year it would give priority to applicants above the age of 70, and those who had failed to make it to the subsidy list despite trying for the last three years.