3/03/2007

Christians demand subsidy to Bethlehem!

Updates: Please see some updates at the end of this article.

Till now, Indian government has been subsidising Haj trip for muslims, Kailash Manasarovar trip for hindus, setting up facilities for Kumbh Mela etc. Infact, if you are a pilgrim to Manasarovar from Delhi, Gujarat or UP, you get an additional subsidy from your state. And now, christians have rightfully started demanding subsidy to Bethlehem. Let me break these down.

So how much does a Haj pilgrim get from the Indian government ? For 2005, it was Rs. 20, 000 per person on a Rs. 92, 000 Haj package by the government appointed Haj committee. The Rs. 20, 000 which the government subsidises is actually what the government pays to (again government owned) Air India already overpriced tickets. For the same year, the total government subsidy for Haj totalled to Rs. 225 crores for a total of 100,000 people. Click here for a pdf file of the Expenditure Budget 2005-2006, Volume I, from the Ministry of Finance website. Since the Air India tickets are overpriced compared to other airlines, it is reasonable that some feel it is a scam to make up for airline losses. Even BJP's muslim face, Muqhtar Abbas Naqvi shares this view. Here is an interview of Naqvi by hindu.com .

How much does one get for Kailash Manasarovar trip ? The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, when deciding on the Haj subsidy for 2006 asked Mr. Vahanvati how much the government spends per person on KM. For 2006, it was Rs. 3200. You can read more details here. This is slightly less than the Rs. 3250 per person subsidy for KM in 2001 according to Ministry of External Affairs website. On a per person basis, it is lower compared to what a Haj pilgrim gets. But, if you are from Delhi, Gujarat or UP, after adding state subsidies, you pretty much get more than what a Haj pilgrim gets. Gujarat gave Rs. 20,000 to its 198 Manasarovar pilgrimers. The trip usually costs around Rs. 80, 000 per person. This subsidy for 2006 was much higher if you were from Madhya Pradesh , which decided to give a 50% subsidy for the year 2006.

How much does a hindu get ? This is a tricky question, primarily because its hard to get facts and figures from government sources. If you add up the government spendings, both in terms of per person subsidies and facilities like sanitation, medical etc on Manasarovar, Kumbh Mela, it probably should add up to lots more compared to what muslims get. According to this blogger, the government spending on Kumbh Mela alone was around Rs. 1200 crore. But then, one also needs to take into account what various state governments get from temples like Sabarimala, Tirupathi etc.

How much does a Christian get for pilgrimage ?
Till now, nothing. On Dec 12, 2006, a delegation of Christian MPs met Manmohan Singh demanding a subsidy to Bethlehem to be added in the 2007-2008 Union Budget! Here is a snippet from Asian Age.

If the government can give Haj subsidy to Muslims, why cannot Christians get something similar for a pilgrimage to the holy city of Bethlehem? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who returned home on Saturday from Japan was confronted with this demand from a delegation of Christian MPs who wanted the subsidy included in the Union Budget for 2007-2008. Even Hindu pilgrims get a subsidy for travelling to Manasarovar. Hence it was pointed out that it would be discriminating against Christians to deny them a similar benefit. The MP delegation was led by Dr H.T. Sangliana and comprised George Fernandes, Dr P.C. Alexander, P.A. Sangma, P.C. Thomas, Seelam Jesudasu, Kharsiingh Robert, Silvius Condpan, Mabel Rebello, Sushila Kerketta and Shantaram Naik, a Rajya Sabha member from Goa. The Prime Minister was perplexed to find Naik, a Hindu, in the delegation but the latter told him that Goa had a 30% Christian population and he was echoing their sentiments.

Now comes the interesting part.

How much can I get from the government ? You could get quite a lot and it is actually doable. Here are the few easy steps.
  1. Form your own religion.
  2. Select a nice holy place for annual pilgrimage like Las Vegas or Maui.
  3. Demand atleast 50% subsidy from the government for your annual pilgrimage. If the government doesn't agree, threaten to file a discriminatory case at the highest court.
How did we get into this mess ? It probably goes back to the time when modern India was born in 1947. Our leaders were debating what kind of a constitution we should have. It finally boiled down to choosing between an exclusive secular nation (as practised in most Western countries) and all inclusive secular nation. India, unfortunately in my opinion, chose the latter. Check out Shashi Tharoor's Nehru for a detailed story surrounding this. It became obligatory for government to recognize and support and subsidize each and every recognized religious institutions. In my opinion, exclusive secularism as practised by countries in EU, USA is much better. The state does not and need not support any religion and is completely separate from the church. Personally, I don't want my tax money to feed some other random unknown persons spiritual cravings. An all inclusive secularism, in which state tries to support all different kinds of churches, cannot work without being discriminatory one way or the other. For example, newer religions or newer gods find it hard to get acceptance from the state.

Please feel free to add/correct figures to this article in your comments quoting your source as well.


Update1: The Union Budget for 2007-2008 has set aside Rs. 374 crores subsidy for Haj Charters. You can obtain the pdf file from the union budget website by clicking here.

Update2: I wonder what the constitutionality of all these state subsidies for religious promotion is given that article 27 of Indian Constitution reads:
27. Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.-

No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.

2 comments:

Mohib said...

Nice post and thanks for linking to the IM article.

Personally I am against Indian government sponsoring religious junkets. I think that Haj subsidy is one of the sticks for the Sangh Parivar off-shoots to beat Muslims with. Also, political parties have kept it intact to cater to their constituencies. In India symbolism sells big time.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid exclusive secularism would be deemed pro-atheism in India and thus being rejected. Also government sould not be giving out subsidies like this, the thing that should be done is tax breaks for such expenditure I am sure if you include sales, income tax etc it would account for ~ 30% and no one will feel cheated.