ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet at PM Office on Thursday.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet at PM Office on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD: At a time when inflation is hitting every segment of society hard, performing of Haj has also become costlier by 63 per cent.

The federal cabinet on Thursday announced the Haj Policy 2019 under which the cost of performing the ritual under the government scheme has been fixed at Rs456, 426 (with Qurbani), against last year’s expense of Rs280,000 per person. Now, every individual will have to pay an additional Rs176,426.

Under the Haj Policy 2018, the cost of Haj for individuals in the north of the country was Rs280,000 and for the south, it was Rs270,000. However, in the new policy, the cost of Haj for individuals in the north has been fixed at Rs456,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs436, 975 (without Qurbani), while for those in the south it is Rs446,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs426, 975 (without Qurbani).

“Prime Minister Imran Khan approved the Haj Policy 2019 today under which 184,000 pilgrims from Pakistan will perform Haj this year,” said Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry at a press conference after the cabinet meeting, elaborating that under a quota of 184,000 pilgrims given this year to Pakistan by the government of Saudi Arabia, 10,000 senior citizens would perform Haj. “We are trying to provide better facilities to pilgrims,” he added. “Their biometrics will be conducted in their own cities.”

Decides to reconsider travel ban on 32 persons named in ‘fake accounts’ case

Sources said that during the cabinet meeting, some ministers, including Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, had opposed the move to withdraw the subsidy on Haj. They said Mr Qadri was due to accompany the information minister at the press briefing, but he did not turn up apparently to show his displeasure over the decision after which the charges would increase to over Rs456,000.

When contacted, the information minister denied reports that Mr Qadri was to be present at the presser. However, a reporter who has been covering the religious affairs ministry for the past 10 years, said it was for the first time that the religious affairs minister had not announced the Haj policy.

Exit Control List

The cabinet also decided to reconsider the names of 32 persons accused in the ‘fake bank accounts’ case so that their names could be removed from the travel ban list.

Initially, 172 people — including top leaders of the PPP — were placed on the ECL but on the directives of the Supreme Court, the names of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah were removed. Now, 170 of the persons accused face the travel ban.

“The ban on [former president] Asif Ali Zardari will continue while the case of 32 others has been sent to the review committee for removal from the ECL,” the information minister said, adding that one of the persons accused in the context, Abdul Momin Dehri, had passed away.

Visa regime

The cabinet decided to provide e-visa to the nationals of 175 countries, that will be issued by the relevant Pakistan embassies within one week. The nationals of 50 countries, that the minister referred to as “friendly countries”, will be given visas on arrival at domestic airports. However, the cabinet did not approve the provision of a visa on arrival to foreign journalists. Responding to a query about the issuance of visas to Indian nationals, the minister said: “India is still in category B and no decision has so far been made regarding the issuance of visas on arrival to Indians.”

18th Amendment

Talking about the controversy generated over the mentioned change, the minister said that more than a 100 articles of the Constitution have been affected under the amendment, many of them proving to be non-beneficial. Answering a question about the ongoing US-Taliban negotiation process, Mr Chaudhry claimed that the credit of bringing the two sides to the table went to the PTI-led government. The talks, he said, were heading towards their logical conclusion and would benefit the whole region. The minister added that the cabinet had approved recommendations on civil service reforms that were presented by Dr Ishrat, the head of a committee formed on the issue.

He explained that Finance Minister Asad Umar had also given a detailed presentation on tax reform and that it had been discussed that the country’s defence budget was still low as compared to that of India and other neighbouring countries. “Although we cannot increase our defence budget at this stage, it is still lower than that of other countries in the region,” he said.

The cabinet approved appointment of Khurram Hussain as managing director of Pak-Libya Holding Company Limited. It also approved terms and conditions for the appointment of Jameel Ahmed as deputy governor of State Bank of Pakistan.

On journalists’ complaint regarding cuts in their salaries, and retrenchments in media houses, Mr Chaudhry said that he would always stand by journalists.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019