A few days ago the Supreme Court of India admitted a petition challenging the subsidy for haj. (Link). The Rs 280 crore (~ US$ 60 million) a year subsidy for Muslims to visit Saudi Arabia, the petitioners claim, is not just unconstitutional but discriminatory.
I agree. It is way past high time for this. I have never understood the rationale behind the Indian government’s haj subsidy. It goes against any notion of social justice, fairness, and economic reasoning. First of all, religion is a purely private affair in a secular state and the government should not get into the business of promoting any religion, least of all Islam. Islam makes very tall claims for itself and has the explicit goal of subjugating non-Islamic states and peoples. Assuming that the Indian state is non-Islamic, by promoting Islam, the government is implicitly endorsing Islam’s goal of overthrowing the government. Until India becomes an Islamic state, it makes no sense for the government of India to promote Islam.
Fairness is the cornerstone of justice. It is unfair — and therefore unjust — for the government to force non-Muslims to subsidize Islam because ultimately it is not the government’s money but rather the taxpayers’ money that the government hands out to promote Islam through its haj subsidy. Once again, for an Islamic state to tax its non-Muslim subjects is understandable since Islam dictates that non-Muslims pay jizya — “a poll-tax levied from those who did not accept Islam, but were willing to live under the protection of Islam, and were thus tacitly willing to submit to the laws enforced by the Muslim State.” (Wiki.) The Indian government is not an Islamic one — at least not yet — and therefore must not impose jizya on its citizens.
From an economic point of view, subsidies and taxes are sometimes justified. For instance, revenues required for the provision of public goods have to be raised in some way and taxes are one way of doing so. There are welfare losses which arise from taxes but in the case of the provision of public goods, the derived benefits could outweigh those losses. There are good reasons for subsidies also. When markets under-provide some goods (such as is the case for some public goods), then subsidies are justified. Even then, from an economic efficiency point of view, the taxes required for balancing the subsidies should be paid by the beneficiaries of the public good in question.
Aside from public goods, one can make a case for the public provision of some good or service. (Note that merely because a good or service is publicly provided does not make it a public good. Private goods can also be publicly provided, just as public goods can be privately provided.) One such case would be due to high transaction costs, such as when it is too expensive to determine individual quantity used and apportion costs among a very large number of users. Collective provisioning of the service and funding it though taxes may be the most practical method.
The haj subsidy fails all of the tests above. I suggest that the Indian government should abolish the haj subsidy. I think that if people want to go on haj, they pay for it themselves, and if they cannot afford it, just as is the case for any other activity, ask for donations from those who wish to give voluntarily. Forcing people (such as myself) to pay for the haj is immoral and unethical.
Here’s a mechanism which I believe would be fair, reasonable and practical. Instead of the current practice of the government taking part of my tax money and allocating it to support the haj, the government should let me decide how much I wish to contribute to the haj and indicate it on my tax returns. Note that this amount is over and above whatever taxes I have to pay. That is, if my tax is Rs T, and I wish to contribute Rs H for the haj, then at tax time, I will pay Rs (T + H) to the government. Then the government can add up all the H’s in all the tax returns and use it to support the haj.
This way no one is forced to support an activity that he or she disapproves of. The best way would be to get the government out of the haj subsidy business entirely, of course, but this is just a way of ascertaining the collective will of the Indian taxpayers.
There is a larger principle here. I think charity should be a voluntary activity. The government should not be in the business of deciding for any citizen how much of that citizen’s resources should be allocated to charity. For instance, the government should not be handing out disaster relief funds to any foreign governments. (See Funding Islamic Terrorism and the followup.) The people are quite capable of deciding how much they want to contribute to disaster relief in whichever part of the world they feel like. Non-governmental organizations exist by the millions (this is not hyperbole — it is a fact) and they do collect donations for disaster and other relief work.
I hope that the case against the haj subsidy is decided soon and decided in favor of those who wish to see it abolished. I am going to request all my friends and colleagues who blog to raise this issue. It is time we started a “Stop the Haj Subsidy Movement” — banners for blogs would be good idea as well. OK, if you have design skills, please let me know.