Haj pilgrims
Pilgrims perform evening prayers in Mecca's Grand Mosque during the annual HajFayez nureldine /AFP/Getty

In 2012 India's Supreme Court told the government to put an end to the country's Haj subsidy within the next 10 years. With the holy month of Ramadan approaching, a nationwide debate has been sparked once again about the subsidy for Muslim pilgrims, with many weighing in to call for it to be abolished sooner.

At the time of issuing the order, the Supreme Court said that the money should instead be spent on education and other social development schemes for the Muslim community. Furthermore, Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P Desai suggested that many Indian Muslims would support the abolishment of the subsidy as well on the grounds that the Haj pilgrimage is only mandatory for those who can afford expenses.

IBTimes UK rounds up everything you need to know about India's Haj subsidy and what people in the country are saying about it.

What is India's Haj subsidy?

India's Haj subsidy is given to Indian Muslim Haj pilgrims by the Indian government, having originated during the British colonial era. The Haj Committees Act was implemented by British rulers alongside a series of other acts in order to appease Muslim demands before the partition of India. No other country has Haj subsidies.

In 1973, the rules changed to offer Indian Muslims a concessionary ticket if they fly to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Iran on India's national airline, Air India. All Haj air traffic is now shared by Air India and Saudia, Saudi Arabia's national airline and has become the most controversial point of discussion on India's Haj subsidy, with many beginning to view it as a subsidy for the airline rather than the Muslim community.

At present, the Ministry of Civil Aviation provides subsidies to Indian Muslim pilgrims through the Haj Committee of India, which includes the airfare subsidy as well as subsidies for the pilgrims to travel domestically to reach the Haj points and assist with meals and accommodation.

According to government statistics, the average airfare subsidy per Muslim pigrim in 2008 was Rs 73,526 (£750, $1,100) for airfares, and roughly Rs 2,697 for non-airfare assistance. In 2012 the central government decided to restrict the subsidy to Muslims as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, rather than once every five years.

What are the Muslims saying?

Despite what one might think, a number of Muslim leaders have also called for the abolishment of the Haj subsidy, arguing that it is "un-Islamic". In 2006, Maulana Mehmood Madani, an Indian politician and general secretary of Muslim organisation, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, was among them.

According to the Indian Express, Madani said: "It is against the Shariat to be under any kind of obligation while undertaking Haj. According to the Quran, only those Muslims who can afford the expenses should perform Haj. It's recommended only for adult, financially able and sane Muslims."

However, there have also been some Muslims who support the idea of a Haj subsidiary, such as Haj Committee CEO Muhammad Owais, who said in 2006: "There is no doubt that it is un-Islamic and one should not be under any obligation while undertaking Haj. But we should be allowed to place bulk orders with the airline which quotes the lowest price for a ticket. As of now, we are bound by the government to travel by Air India."

In 2012, the president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (an umbrella body of Muslim organisations), also slammed the Haj subsidy and called for it to be abolished. Zafarul Islam Khan told Voices of America: "Muslims in general are not in favour of the Haj subsidy. We consider the subsidy as a subsidy to Air India and not to the Muslim community. We didn't demand subsidy any day but the government insisted on this just to show normal and ordinary voters, Muslim voters, that they are doing a favour."

What are other Indians saying?

On 18 May the word Haj was trending in India on Twitter as many debated the abolishment of the pilgrimage subsidy. The majority of people on social media appeared to be in favour of getting rid of the scheme, with many saying that Muslims should bear their own expenses. Here are some of the tweets that contributed to the discussion.