SEVERAL dozen Pakistanis were killed in a stampede while performing rituals in Mina during last year’s Haj. Following the incident, families and government officials had to face severe problems in tracing the missing pilgrims.

This year, the federal ministry of religious affairs is already concerned about possible accidents during Haj and is considering various steps, including a digital tracking system, for better coordination with the pilgrims.

Sardar Mohammad Yousaf, federal minister for religious affairs, shared some details of the planned facilities for pilgrims in a conversation with Dawn. Below are excerpts.

Q: What arrangements are you making to help Pakistani pilgrims in a crisis situation during Haj?

A: We have planned several steps to assist the pilgrims in a better manner this year. One of them is introduction of a tracking system. We have sought proposals from several tracking companies to devise a system to trace each Pakistani pilgrim during Haj. Hopefully we will be able to apply this system before the first Haj flight leaves for Saudi Arabia.

Q: How will this tracking system work?

A: We will provide a tracking device to each pilgrim. This device may be in the shape of a wristwatch, bracelet or a locket. It will be connected to a control system and will show location of the pilgrim. This device may also enable the pilgrim to receive and send messages in case of an emergency.

Q: What is the price of this device and who will pay for it?

A: We are yet to determine the price for this system because at the moment we are seeking initial proposals from tracking companies, but roughly it would cost around Rs7,000. The government will provide these devices to pilgrims without any extra charges; the cost is covered in the regular Haj fee which is around Rs275,000.

Q: When will you give these devices to the pilgrims?

A: We will hand over these devices to them during the training of Haj rituals. We will also provide them complete training to use it. We are trying to organise first basic training of Haj rituals before Ramazan.

Q: What other arrangements have you made to make Haj easier for Pakistani citizens?

A: We have introduced several new facilities this year. We will provide residences to 100 per cent pilgrims within a 500-meter radius of the grand mosque in Madina. This year, we will have all new busses for transport in Saudi Arabia and 50pc of pilgrims will be directly landing in Madina. We have agreements with four national airlines. In case of delay in flights, the airline companies will have to pay a penalty. This year, we have also made the airlines responsible to pick up luggage of pilgrims from their residences on their way back home. Besides, we have also arranged this year a complete air-conditioning system for Pakistani pilgrims in Arafat. The government will be providing three meals a day this time instead of two, which were being given until last year. We will also provide a snack box at the airport at the time of departure for Haj.

Q: How many Pakistanis will perform Haj this year?

A: In total, 143,368.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2016

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