New Delhi, January 16: The Narendra Modi government has done away with Haj subsidy to pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia. Ministry of Minority Affairs headed by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday said that 1.75 lakh Muslims, a highest ever number of pilgrims, would go on Haj this year. Also Read - Mamata Banerjee Gets Election Commission Notice Over Her Address To Muslim Voters In Hoogly

Naqvi claimed that the removal of the subsidy would not affect the cost of the travel for Haj. Naqvi also said that the subsidy will now be used for the upliftment of minorities through education, particularly girls.  “Muslims didn’t benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls. We believe in empowerment without appeasement,” Naqvi said. Also Read - Number of Haj Pilgrims From Bengal to be Halved in 2021: Haj Committee Member

A policy to withdraw the Haj subsidy had been drafted in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Centre to abolish it by 2022. Also Read - BJP Alleges Congress has Formed 'Radical Syndicate' With Jamaat-e-Islami, PFI; Questions Tejashwi

When the BJP came to power, around Rs 700 was the subsidy given to Haj pilgrims every year. He said that the main beneficiary of the subsidy was the Air India.

The Centre in 2016, spent Rs 405 crore as subsidy for the Haj pilgrims. In 2014, the subsidy was Rs 577.07 crore and in the following year, it was reduced to Rs 529.51 crore.

The decision to abolish Haj subsidy comes just a day after the government allowed Muslim women above the age of 45 to go on the pilgrimage without a male guardian, in groups of at least four.

Last year the minority affairs ministry constituted a committee to review the existing Haj policy and suggest a framework for a new Haj policy for 2018-22.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s Kamal Farooqui welcomed the move, saying that a wrong impression was being created that Muslims were gaining from the government aid.

The government will offer air and waterways option for the pilgrims as the cost will go up.

This year, around 1,300 women from India will go for Haj without a “Mehram”, after Saudi Arabia relaxed norms and allowed a group of at least four women over the age of 45.