ISLAMABAD: The new government has ceded to the longstanding demand of private tour operators to increase their share by reducing that of the official scheme by up to 20pc of the total Haj quota allocated to Pakistan.

Minister for Religious Affairs Mufti Abdul Shakoor, who belongs to the JUI-F, on Friday said due to higher cost of facilities in Saudi Arabia the Haj charges could increase by up to 82 per cent.

In a media talk here, the minister announced that there was pressure to enhance the share of the private Haj operators in the overall operation. Therefore, the quota for the private tour operators has been increased to 60pc that is 48,679 pilgrims. He said 32,453 pilgrims, who accounted for 40pc of the total, would perform Haj under the government scheme.

Earlier, the ratio was in reverse order and 60pc quota was allocated for ordinary Pakistanis to facilitate them to perform Haj under the government scheme.

Minister says due to higher cost of facilities in Saudi Arabia, Haj charges could increase by up to 82pc this year

Haj could not be performed by international pilgrims for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and since the situation has now improved the authorities have allowed the pilgrims from all over the globe to perform Haj this year.

Mufti Shakoor said details of Haj expenditures had not yet been received from Saudi Arabia but keeping in view the overall inflation and the declining value of the rupee the charges could be between Rs700,000 and Rs1,000,000.

These charges under the official scheme were Rs550,000 in 2020 when Haj was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and there were no preparations in 2021.

The last Haj was performed under the 2019 policy under which pilgrims from north of Lahore had to pay Rs456,935 and the rates for pilgrims in the southern zone was Rs446,975.

The Saudi authorities have given a quota of 81,132 pilgrims to Pakistan to perform Haj this year and the applicants have to be under 65 years of age.

Responding to queries over the reasons to increase the share of the private sector, which will financially hurt the ordinary citizens, the minister said performing Haj was not obligatory for everyone but for only those who could afford it.

“But this 60:40 ratio is not final. We will hold consultations over it,” Mufti Shakoor said, adding the demand for a subsidy under the government scheme would be forwarded to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman to play their role in ensuring some relief to the pilgrims.

Applications from the aspiring pilgrims will be accepted from May 1 to May 13 along with a token payment of Rs50,000.

Ministry officials will start meeting airlines to discuss the Haj operations and fares and the final Haj policy 2022 is expected to be announced in two weeks.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2022

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