India’s central government has said it will withdraw a subsidy given to hundreds of thousands of Muslims for their annual Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
The decision follows 2012 calls from the Supreme Court to withdraw the subsidy gradually by 2022, news agency IANS reports.
Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the withdrawal of the funds, totalling more than $1,200 per Muslim pilgrim, was under government policy to empower but not appease minorities.
He said the subsidy, which was given in the form of cheaper air tickets via government-owned Air India and assistance with domestic travel to airports, would instead be used to educate minorities including girls.
A record number of Indian pilgrims are expected to undertake their Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year after the kingdom increased India’s quota by 5,000.
This means a total of 175,000 pilgrims will be granted Haj visas.
In January, Saudi ruler King Salman announced the lifting of 20 per cent reduction in the quota for foreign pilgrims and a 50 per cent reduction in the quota for domestic pilgrims originally introduced to allow expansion work to take place.
More than 2.35 million pilgrims converged in Makkah for Haj last year.