The government plans to open the sea route to Haj, a move aimed at reducing travel cost after the Supreme Court passed an order in 2012 to phase out government subsidy for air travel for the pilgrimage by 2022.
Akbar and Noorjahan were the last ships that sailed until 1994 to ferry pilgrims to Jeddah. In 1994, 4,680 pilgrims used the sea route for Haj. The service was discontinued from 1995 as the two dilapidated ships were phased out. There was also an increased demand for air travel. From 31,000 pilgrims in 1995 who took flights, the number increased to over 1 lakh in 2016.
“We will roll out a new Haj policy in 2018,” minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. “The sea route will be an option.” Naqvi has spoken to shipping minister Nitin Gadkari to provide ships for Haj and the latter has agreed to the proposal.
The new ships will take maximum three days to cover the distance between India and Jeddah, as compared to the 15-20 days it took in the 1990s.
Following the Supreme Court’s order, the government has gradually reduced Haj subsidy from Rs 836.56 crore in 2012-13 to Rs 405 crore (approx) in the year 2016-17.