Two days ago, Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, in a press conference in Delhi, announced that the airfares for Hajj 2018 pilgrims had been reduced considerably after the subsidy on Hajj came to an end. And the media lapped it up, almost no questions asked.

Relief for Pilgrims, said Times of India, Government announces airfare reduction, said DNA, Government announces cut in Haj airfare, said Indian Express. Others news sites followed suit. Interestingly, Naqvi while talking about the ‘reduced’ fares compared it with figures of 2013/14, the last year of the UPA government, adding that there was not much of a difference in the rates last year. The UPA-declared fares “had become the standard rates,” he said. On first impressions, it does seem that the fares have gone down: Naqvi, for example, pointed out in 2013/14, Hajj pilgrims had to pay close to Rs 2 lakh, but in 2013 they would pay Rs 1.09 lakh for round trip to Jeddah. A saving of Rs 97,000, claimed the reports.

The details are of course, in the fine print.

What Naqvi failed to point out, was that in the name of ‘reducing’ the fare, it had quietly increased the amount that is paid by the pilgrims. The ‘price’ of the ticket during previous years was much higher than what the pilgrims actually paid and included the ‘subsidy’ paid by the government. With the end of the subsidy, now the total cost will be paid by the traveller. The subsidy never helped; its withdrawal however, will hurt some travellers. Here is an example:

In 2017, the fare paid by a pilgrim travelling from Delhi to Jeddhah paid Rs 67,419 from his/her pocket, while the final price of the ticket would have been much higher after including the subsidy paid by the government to Air India. However, this year, after the ‘reduction’ in fares the pilgrim will now pay Rs 73,697. In case of Guwahati, again, pilgrims paid Rs 65,988 out of their pockets for Hajj. This year, they will have to pay Rs 1,15,646. In fact, the only city where pilgrims will pay less from their own pocket is Hyderabad; a princely sum of Rs 1. Last year, the pilgrims paid Rs 65,656, this year they will pay Rs 65,655.

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Table: Comparison of fares paid by pilgrims in 2017 vs 2018

1. Jammu & Kashmir.

Srinagar Rs. 68,510/-
Srinagar Rs. 1,09,692/-

2. Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh & Sikkim.

GUWAHATIvRs. 65,988/-
GUWAHATI Rs. 1,15,646/-

3. Jharkhand.

RANCHI Rs. 65,708/-
RANCHI Rs. 1,07,275/-

4. Bihar.

Gaya Rs. 68,877/-
Gaya Rs. 1,13,680/-

5. Madhya Pradesh (Alirajpur, Badwani, Burhanpur, Dewas, Dhar, Indore, Jhabua, Khandwa, Khargone, Mandsaur, Neemuch, Ratlam & Ujjain Distris)

Indore Rs. 68,764/-
Indore Rs. 97,233/-

6. Madhya Pradesh (Anuppura, Ashok Nagar, Betul, Bhind, Bhopal, Datiya,Chhatarpur, Damoh, Dindori, Guna, Gwalior, Harda, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur, Katni, Morena, Narshingpur, Panna, Raisen, Rajgarh, Rewa, Sagar, Satna, Sehore, Shahdol, Shahjapur, Sheopur Kalan, Shivpuri, Sidhi, Singrauli, Tikamgarh, Umaria & Vidisha Districts).

Bhopal Rs. 68,785/-
Bhopal Rs. 95,328/-

7. Mangaluru (DK), Chikkamagaluru, Hassan, Kodagu & Udupi Districts of Karnataka State.

Mangalore Rs. 69,645/-
Mangalore Rs. 1,05,356/-

8. Goa and Uttar Kannada & Belagavi Districts of Karnatka State.

Goa Rs. 68,862/-
Goa Rs. 81,536/-

9. Maharashtra (Aurangabad, Beed, Hingoli, Jalna, Latur, Nanded, Osmanabad, Parbhani and Ahmed Nagar Distrits).

AURANGABAD Rs. 68,777/-
AURANGABAD Rs. 87,460/-

10. Uttar Pradesh [Eastern Districts viz Allahabad, Azamgarh, Ballia, Deoria, Chandauli, Ghazipur, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, kushambi, kushi Nagar, Mau, Maharaj Ganj, Mirzapur, Sant Ravidas Nagar, Sonbhadra & Varanasi].

VARANASI Rs. 70,082/-
VARANASI Rs. 92,387/-

11. Rajasthan.

Jaipur Rs. 69,772/-
Jaipur Rs. 83,216/-

12. Chhattishgar, Maharashtra (Akola, Amravati, Bhandara, Buldhana, Gondi Chandra pur, Gadchiroli, Nagpur, Wardha, Washim & Yavatmal Distrits of Vidharbha Region) and Madhya Pradesh (Balaghat, Chindwada, Mandla & Seoni Districts).

NAGPUR Rs. 68,777/-
NAGPUR Rs. 70,972/-

13. Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigar, Uttarakhand,& Uttar Pradesh, [Western Districts viz Agra, Aligarh, Baghpat, Bhimnagar, (Sambhal), Bijnore, Buland Shahar, Firozabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Ghaziabad, Jyotiba Phule Nagar, Mahamaya Nagar, (Hathras), Mathura, Meerut, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Panchsheel Nagar (Hapur), Prabudh Nagar (Kairana, Shamli), Rampur & Saharanpur].

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NEW Delhi Rs. 67,419/-

NEW Delhi Rs. 73,697/-

14. Maharashtra (Dhule, Jalgaon, Kolhapur, Mumbai, Nandurbar, nasik, pune, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sangli, Satara, Sindhudurg, Solapur & Thane Districts), Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Mumbai Rs. 58,254/-
Mumbai Rs. 58,254/-

15. West Bengal, Odisha and Tripura.

Kolkata Rs. 69,968/-
Kolkata Rs. 83,027/-

16. Karnataka, (Bagalkot, Bengaluru Rural, Bengaluru Urban, Ballari, Vijayapura, Haveri chamraj Nagar, Chikbalapur, Chitradurga, Davangerem, Dharwad, Kolar, Gadag, Kopal, Mandya, Mysuru, Ramanagaram, Shivamogga & Tumakuru Districts) and Anantpur & Chittoor Districts of Andhraprades State.

BENGALURU Rs. 70,085/-
BENGALURU Rs. 71,586/-

17. Andhra Pradesh & Telangana (Adilabad, Cuddapah, East Godavari, Guntur, Hyderabad, Kadapa, Karim Nagar, Khammam, Krishna, Kurnool, Mahabub Nagar, Medak, Nal Gonda, Nellore, Nizamabad, Patan Chiru, Prakasam, Rangareddi, Sangareddy, Secunderabad, Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Warangal & West Godavari Districts) and Bidar, Kalaburagi, raichur & Yadgir Districts of Karnataka State.

Hyderabad Rs. 65,656/-
Hyderabad Rs. 65,655/-

18. Kerala, Lakshadweep & Mahe (Puducherry)

COCHIN Rs. 65,625/-
COCHIN Rs. 76,372/-

19. Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andaman & Nicobar.

Chennai Rs. 66,304/-
Chennai Rs. 83,832/-

20. Gujarat.

Ahmedabad Rs. 63,135/-
Ahmedabad Rs. 63,135/-

21. Uttar Pradesh [Central Districts viz Ambedkar Nagar, Auraiya, Badaun, banda, Bahraich, Balrampur, Barabanki, Bareilly, Basti, C.S.M. Nagar, (Amethi), Etah, Chitrakoot, Etawah, Faizabad, Farrukhabad, Fatehpur, Gonda, Hameerpur, Hardoi, Jalaun, Jhansi, Kannauj, Kanpur, Kasganj, Lakhimpur Kheri, Lalitpur, Lucknow, Mohaba, Mainpuri, Pilibhit, Pratap Garh, Rae Bareilly, Ramabai Nagar (Kanpur Dehat), Sant Kabir Nagar, Shahjahanpur, Shravasti, Siddharth Nagar, Sitapur, Sultanpur & Unnao].

Lucknow Rs. 66,829/-
Lucknow Rs. 80,966/-

Source: Hajj Committee of India website

But why are tickets for Hajj so expensive?
One would have believed otherwise, but given that our newspapers are full of them, it would be right to assume that our government knows and understands how tenders work. Lowest bidder, to put it simply. Somehow, from roads to buildings to even the coveted Metro rail system, this seems to work. Then why does our government get cold feet when it comes to announcing a simple tender for Hajj tickets?

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Consider this: the average price between Delhi and Jeddah, even on a two day-notice, is around the Rs 40,000-Rs 45,000 for a round trip economy ticket. But somehow, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi wants us to believe that the NDA government has ‘reduced’ the fares, from Delhi for example, to Rs 71,853 for a round trip? Jeddah for the price of Europe? How is this a reduction, when the tickets continue to be sold at near-double prices compared with the prices offered by private players? And how does it help that people pay such a huge amount for flights in Air India, hardly the benchmark for quality service and efficiency when global leaders like Etihad are more likely to offer much better services at much lower rates?

Just for once, think what the prices will come down to there is a global tender for the Hajj tickets. In a highly price-sensitive market like the aviation sector, the chance to facilitate travel for the third-largest Hajj quota in the world will make for a bloody (figuratively speaking) pricing war and only benefit the travellers.

Unlike the BJP and other right-wing parties that believed that the Congress government was favouring/appeasing Muslims by giving them a ‘subsidy’, the truth has for long been clear: the only party this subsidy helped was Air India. There was never a ‘defence’ of the subsidies. No Muslims ever marched in the streets crying ‘Injustice!!!! when the subsidy came to an end. There was no anger, no effect. Leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi had long ago made the same demand. Everyone, except the right wing it seems, knew who the subsidy was for. Not for Muslims, surely.

The bulk tickets, coupled with the ‘subsidy’ paid directly to Air India, have helped keep the white elephant that is Air India alive. And despite promises made to the contrary, the BJP government does not want to disrupt the system. And like always, media was only too eager to state the obvious and ignore the fine print. #KhabarLive