Subsidy removal, GST hit Hajis

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Patna: Haj Committee of India on Tuesday said the Centre’s decision to do away with Haj subsidy had hit the poor and middle classes hard, culminating in 1,500 less pilgrims from Bihar going on Haj in 2018 against last year.

Interacting with journalists on Tuesday, Lok Sabha MP from Khagaria and Haj Committee chairman Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser said owing to withdrawal of Haj subsidy and imposition of GST on air travel, the Haj fee for a pilgrim had gone up by Rs 15,000-60,000 over last year.

“A significant portion of expenses incurred by Hajis goes on air travel, which is not exempted from the Goods and Services Tax,” Choudhary said, demanding that the government exempt pilgrims from paying 18 per cent GST on air travel. He said the government had earlier excluded the Haj Committee from paying GST but its move to levy 18 per cent GST on air travel by Hajis led to substantial increase in expenditure resulting in many pilgrims from lower income groups cancelling their pilgrimage.

Bihar State Haj Committee sources admitted the number of Haj pilgrims from Bihar had dipped by at least 1,500 in 2018. “Pilgrims from rural Bihar cannot afford such a steep fare. They normally accumulate their lives’ savings to visit the most significant place for Muslims around the world,” said a source.

From 2016 to 2018, pilgrims flying to Saudi Arabia from Gaya airport are seeing a 78 and 75 percent rise in Haj expenses for the Green and Azizia category pilgrims respectively. In terms of money the difference comes to Rs 39,400 and Rs 38,650 respectively.

“The Supreme Court had asked for the subsidy to be done away with in a gradual manner by 2022, but the abrupt step of eliminating it altogether posed a significant burden on pilgrims,” said Choudhary. Bihar State Haj Committee chairman Mohammad Ilyas echoed him. Ilyas said the step to levy 18 per cent GST on air travel pilgrims was de-motivating and opportunistic. “We are willing to meet the Prime Minister and request him to either exempt or reduce GST on air travel,” he said.

“We have also written to chief minister Nitish Kumar to kindly take it up with the Centre. Reducing GST on Haj air travel will provide pilgrims at least Rs 10,000 in relief.

“If 5 and 12% GST is charged for air travel in economy and business classes respectively, why should pilgrims be charged 18 per cent GST,” Ilyas asked.

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