Indian Haj authorities could get powers to float global tenders for airlines to ferry over one lakh pilgrims from next year.
The move, if implemented, could end the state-run Air India’s monopoly in the business, lopping off a major chunk of its revenue.
“This is being seriously considered by the government,” the CEO of Haj Committee of India, Mohd Owais, said on Tuesday. The first batch of pilgrims this year left for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for the upcoming annual pilgrimage amid chaos, as the government unexpectedly hiked the airfare by Rs 4,000 a day ahead of the departure.
Minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid told HT the late decision to hike fares had probably to do with the fact that the government did not intend to raise fares until it became unavoidable.
The Congress’ minority cell national secretary, Anees Durrani, wrote to the PM on Tuesday to defer the hike.
The move to open the Haj market to private carriers could significantly rationalise airfares.
Currently, the Haj airfares range between Rs 80,000 and 90,000, depending on the point of embarkation. Of this, a pilgrim has to pay only Rs 17,000 (fare before hike), as the Centre subsidised the airfare to the tune of Rs 390 crore.
Many Muslim leaders have also strongly advocated scrapping the subsidy, citing the Islamic principle that Haj was compulsory only for those who could afford.
They also feel the subsidy generates charges of appeasement of Muslims.
“The PM is very keen on revamping the model. Haj subsidy should go. Global tendering is a step in that direction,” Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson K. Rahman Khan, who had submitted a report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue, told the HT.
For a Haj trip, Air India charges double of what it normally charges on the grounds that it has to take off flights from regular duties.
However, pilgrims frequently complain of poor arrangements by Air India, which alone is mandated by the Haj Act to ferry pilgrims or co-opt another airline.
This year, for example, many Haj flights from India will head first for Medina, one of the Haj sites, instead of Jeddah, the usual port of call, Owais said.
Since, a visit to Medina is mandatory at a later point of Haj, pilgrims will be flown to Medina a second time, increasing the airfare.