Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has confirmed that the Haj subsidy could be phased out as early as 2018, The New Indian Express reported. A meeting comprising of the Haj Committee of India with the senior officials of the ministries of Minority Affairs, Civil Aviation and External Affairs was held on Thursday to discuss the subsidy matter.

“The subsidy has been progressively reduced since 2012 and we are looking to phase it out completely by 2018,” Naqvi told The Hindu. “We would like to spend the funds on educational programmes, especially for girl children of the minority community.”

A six-member Haj Committee was constituted in January to formulate a plan to do away with Haj subsidy, around Rs 650 crore a year, in consonance with the Supreme Court’s May 2012 order. The top court had asked the Union government to gradually phase out the Haj subsidy and abolish it by 2022.

Naqvi said the subsidy would be reduced to “almost nil” from the Rs 450 crore that was spent this year. “Subsidy is only one aspect of the government’s responsibility with regard to Haj, we are committed to a more transparent and open system for sending pilgrims and their safety and security while they perform the pilgrimage,” he told the newspaper.

In January, Saudi Arabia had increased India’s annual Haj quota, taking it from 1,36,020 to 1,70,520.