By M. Ashraf Kakroo
The Central Haj Committee of India has formulated a Haj policy to be implemented from 2018/1439 AH year. The proposed policy states the phasing out of subsidy being met by Govt. of India reportedly. Further, ladies above 45 years of age be allowed in group of four or more to perform the Haj without a male Mohram. However the ladies below the age of 45 years will have to a accompanied by a male family member. Besides, the embarking points from where the pilgrims can take flights to Saudi Arabia and return are proposed to be reduced to nine from 21 at present. To revive the haj pilgrimage by sea the Govt. of India would consult the Saudi Authorities in this behalf. The reserved category of applicants in the age group of 70 years plus and four timer stand abolished and such aspirants would go through the normal lottery system. If it a fact that Govt. of India bears the extra expenditure in the shape of subsidy to facilitate the pilgrims to perform the Haj? I along with three friends performed the Haj 2017 through State Haj Committee and it was observed that India n pilgrims had to face difficulties unnecessarily due to casual, indifferent and irresponsible attitude of officials who were placed for the purpose. Everybody is aware that June to September months experience hot climate in Saudi Arabia and day temperature scales around 50 degree Cc but the pilgrims of Kashmir who hail from cold regions had to face the scorching heat. It is to point out here that Kashmiri pilgrims were lodged in hotels at a distance of one km. and more from Masjid Nabvi (SAW), and Haram Sharief Kaaba, Makka and Azizia, Mina and had to foot the long distances in scorching heat to perform the prayers regularly. To participate in Zuhar and Assar prayers, a pilgrim had to face the irritable hot weather. It is to add here that these days huge hotel building have come up around the Kaba, Makka and Masjid Nabvi (SAW) at Madinna and Indian Pilgrims ought to have been lodged here at an ease. We enquired about the rents/ rates charged per person/ bed by hotels located around Kaaba, Makka and Madina for the entire session of haj (45 days) it was confirmed that these hotels charge 4000 Saudi Riyals (Rs. 70,000 app.) per bed/ person while hotels located at a distance away of one Km. and more charge upto 2500 Saudi riyals (Rs. 43,000 app.) per bed/ person at maximum during the Haj Session. It is Pertinent to mention here that a pilgrim of Pakistan was charged Rs. 2,80,000 Pakistan currency equivalent to 10,000 Saudi Riyals during Haj-2017 and this amount included lodging, boarding, to and fro air fare, transport facilities etc. and these pilgrims were lodged in hotels located around Kaba and Madina. Similarly the pilgrims of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka were charged less than 10,000 saudi Riyals and were lodged in the hotels located around Kaaba and Masjid Nabvi ( SAW). But none of Government of these countries claim that subsidy is granted to pilgrims to perform the Haj. We wonder that a pilgrim of J&K State paid on an average Rs. 2,30,000 and this amounts to approximately 13,500 Saudi Riyals for Haj 2017 and the claim of Govt. of India that it provides subsidy to pilgrims to perform the Haj does not hold ground. To refute the claim of Govt. of India, regarding payment of subsidy to pilgrims, the private tour operators had charged only Rs. 3.90 lakhs average during Haj 2017 which included the to and fro air fare, lodging of pilgrims in hotels around Kaba, Makka and Madina, the sufficient boarding facilities and good transport facilities and better arrangement of Stay at Minna, Arafat, Muzdilfa during the haj days. Besides, these tour operators are business concerns, and not charitable Institutions, thus earn normally. In view of these facts the claim of Govt. of India that it grants subsidy to Haj pilgrims does not hold any ground. It is a political propaganda.
The pilgrims of Haj 2017 of J&K State were put to lot of inconveniences and hardships in absence of transport facilities and staying arraignments at Minna, Arfat and Muzdrifa during the Haj days i.e. 7thZilhaja 1438 /28th August 2017 to 12th Zilhaja 1438/2nd September 2017. The service of Mualum namely Yahaya Hassan Yahaya of Saudi Arabia proved utterly failure of his arrogant and irresponsible behaviour. Persons of his stature are not required to be put on job in future.
To ensure that Haj 2018/1439ah pilgrims are provided the facilities at minimum, the following suggestions are put forward for consideration of Haj Committee of India.
- The lodging of J&K State pilgrims in particular be arranged in hotels located around the Masjid Nabvi (SAW) and Kaaba, Makka so that these pilgrims avoid long foot distances in scorching heat to participate in prayers etc particularly in Zuhar and Assar timings.
- The Khudams selected during Haj 2017 failed miserably. How could you expect that a low ranked employee drawn from State Govt. Departments to deliver in the process of Haj pilgrimage, when such a person is totally a raw hand. Therefore Khudamus to be deployed for Haj 2018/1439 AH should be drawn from sources/ institutions who possess the minimum requirement of;
(a). Having performed Haj / Umrah.
(b). Well versed in Arabic language in addition to others.
(c) Should have sufficient knowledge of topography of Saudi Arabia.
(d) Possess sound health and is aged not above 50 years.
(e) The Khudams so selected will furnished an affidavit that he will perform his duties satisfactorily.
- The selection of Mualum of Saudi Arabia, who are supposed to facilitate the smooth process of Haj performance should be the man of responsibility, integrity, honestly and dedication towards this noble job.
- The embarking points reduced from 21 to 9 for Haj 2018, should be reconsidered as the reduction will add difficulties for pilgrims.
- The arraignments of ferrying of pilgrims by air from India to Saudi Arabia and return should be done under global tendering basis in view of stiff competition among Airlines across the globe.
- The arrangements and deployment of medical personnel for Haj pilgrims be done in such a manner that every pilgrim receive medical aid timely.
- The Central Haj committee of India should indicate the details of expenditure incurred on lodging, Air Fare charges of Mualum etc . for information of general public to justify the subsidy component provide during Haj 2017 if any .
- The step to allow ladies aged above 45 years to perform the Haj 2018 without any male Mohram is illogical and needs to be scrapped.
(The author is (Rtd.) Director J&K Economics / Statistics and can be contacted on Cell: 9858434696)