Buddhists want fare concessions during pilgrimages

February 21st, 2008 - 10:45 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bodh Gaya
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) will recommend travel fare concessions for Buddhists, a religious minority in India, during pilgrimages. Lama Chosphel Zotpa, a senior member of the NCM and a Buddhist, said he would put up the matter for consideration and recommendation to the Ministry of Minority Affairs at the next meeting of the commission.

“Given the economic status of Buddhists, fare concessions for pilgrimages are the need of the hour. We want such concessions only for five places of religious importance for Buddhists-Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Sarnath, Kusinagar and Lumbini,” Zotpa told IANS.

There are around 80 million Buddhists scattered across the country. They are mostly concentrated in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra.

“We want at least 50 percent discount in the fare during a particular month for those visiting select places of religious importance. If such concessions are available to other minority communities, why not to Buddhists?” he said.

At present, Muslims going on Haj to Makkah in Saudi Arabia get concessions in air fare. Andhra Pradesh Monday also announced a subsidy for Christian pilgrims travelling to Israel.

Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, chairman of NCM, said: “We will certainly recommend to the government further action once the matter is brought to the commission’s notice. Facilities in terms of fare concession can be given to any religious group if on pilgrimage.”

While the Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal, Bodh Gaya in Bihar is where he is said to have attained enlightenment. Sarnath near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh was the place where he first preached his teachings.

Zotpa said a national conclave of Buddhists non-governmental and other organisations was scheduled in April in New Delhi, where several other issues concerning the community would be discussed threadbare.

“Then, we will also decide a specific month and places for which a pilgrim can ask for fare concession. Poverty does not permit a large chunk of population to visit such places even once in their life,” he said.

Abdul Hamid Nomani, spokesman of the Jamiatul-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH), an organisation of Muslims, said: “A Haji has to pay only Rs.12,000 as air fare compared to over Rs.40,000 for a regular traveller. It is up to the government to decide if such concessions are given to other religious groups too.”

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