The government has done away with subsidies granted to Haj pilgrims, saying the decision is part of agenda of empowering minorities without trying to appease them.
The government had spent over Rs 250 crore last year on subsidising the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Saudi Arabia, minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said today.
The decision is in line with a 2012 Supreme Court order, asking the government to do away with the subsidy, which had long been sought by the BJP.
The BJP had cited the subsidy as an example of "Muslim appeasement" by parties such as the Congress.
Following the order, the subsidy was being gradually reduced every year.
"It is part of the Modi government's efforts to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement," Naqvi said.
Asked if the subsidy withdrawal will make the cost of the pilgrimage too high for many Muslims, Naqvi said the government was making efforts to bring it down.
The Saudi Arabian government has agreed to allow Indians to go on Haj by the sea route and officials of the two countries will work out the modalities, he said.
Haj pilgrims from certain regions will have an additional option to choose from where they want to fly to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, he said and claimed that this would bring down the cost by up to 70 per cent on some routes.
The minister said, in a first, over 1,300 women would go on Haj without a 'mehram' (male guardian), a practise done away with from this year.
Woman Haj assistants would accompany them and the government has made arrangements for their stay in Saudi Arabia, he said.
Naqvi said his ministry is organising an event in Lucknow on January 18 in which he and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will speak on "empowering minorities without appeasement". Minority affairs ministers of nine states will attend the event.
He also cited a host of measures, such as providing jobs and job opportunities to 8.5 lakh minority youth and scholarships to 1.83 crore students, to claim that the BJP-led NDA government has been working to empower minorities.
His ministry is entrusted with welfare measures for minorities that include Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Jains.
Naqvi, the lone Muslim cabinet minister in the government, also claimed that his ministry had succeeded in helping a lot of youths in getting employment by training them as GST facilitators.
India has an annual Haj quota of 1.70 lakh devotees.
Every year in August, close to a lakh and a half Indian pilgrims go for Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam. For the pilgrimage, they either travel on their own or sign up with the Haj Committee of India (HCOI), which acts as a travel agent on behalf of the government and arranges travel and stay for a fee.
(Inputs from PTI)