Around 1.25 lakh Haj pilgrims will be covered this year under the subsidy scheme of the government, which has also decided to go for competitive bidding for airlines to negotiate fares.

The pilgrims will have to pay Rs 20,000 as air fare this time, which is Rs 4,000 more than that of last year. Besides, one of 21 embarkation points — Patna — has been replaced by Gaya this time due to certain technical difficulties.

The proposals were approved at a meeting of the Union Cabinet yesterday. The Haj flights would start on September 17.

According to officials, apart from the other fees including the airport taxes, each pilgrim would pay Rs 20,000 as air fare. The balance cost of air travel arrangements would be borne by the Government. Last year, a sum of Rs 16,000 was charged as air fare from the pilgrims.

There is no change in the number of Haj pilgrims to be covered this year as last year as also of pilgrims to be covered under the subsidy scheme.

The Ministry of External Affairs is the nodal Ministry for Haj related issues. However, the air travel arrangements for pilgrims going on Haj through the Haj Committee of India are made by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The number of pilgrims, the embarkation points and the fare to charged from each pilgrim are decided by the Cabinet every year. The element of cost of air travel arrangements in excess of the fare paid by the pilgrims is the Haj subsidy borne by the government.

Until 2009, the pilgrims were transported by Saudi Arabian Airlines on negotiated fares and by Air India on cost basis. From 2010, it was decided to select the airlines through a tendering process.