Mumbai, Feb 18
For the first time after Independence, over two lakh Muslim pilgrims will be proceeding to Mecca-Medina in Saudi Arabia without government subsidy, on more than 500 flights and from 21 embarkation points across the country for Haj pilgrimage this year, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said here on Monday.
This year, a total of two lakh Indian Muslims will perform Haj (between July-August). About 1.23 lakh Muslims will go through Haj Committee of India and remaining through Haj Group Organisers, he said. This year over 2100 Muslim women will go to Haj without Mehram (male companion).
Addressing a training programme of “Haj 2020” trainers at Haj House in south Mumbai, Naqvi said the unprecedented reforms undertaken by the Modi government ensured that the entire Haj process has been made digital and transparent and the Haj pilgrimage has become affordable. Making the Haj process 100 per cent digital/online has removed middlemen ensuring Haj pilgrimage becomes affordable in comparison to the cost incurred in last several decades, he said.
Even after removal of Haj subsidy, no additional financial burden has been put on the pilgrims, Naqvi said. India has become the first country to make the entire “Haj 2020” process 100 per cent digital. Online application, e-visa, Haj mobile app, E-MASIHA health faciility, E-luggage pre-tagging providing information in India itself regarding accommodation/transportation in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina have been provided to Indian Muslims going for Haj, he said.
For the first time, facilities have been provided for digital pre-tagging of baggage of Haj pilgrims. Linking SIM card to the mobile app ensures Haj pilgrims immediately get the latest information regarding Haj in Mecca-Medina on their mobile phone.
Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) have also been connected with the 100 per cent digital system which has ensured transparency in their functioning and has led to better facilities to Indian Haj pilgrims. A portal (http://haj.nic.in/pto) for Haj Group Organisers has been developed. It contains details of HGOs and their packages. India in coordination with Saudi Arabia is working to ensure safety and better medical facilities for the pilgrims during Haj 2020, he said.
A total of 650 trainers participated in the training programme. They will train Haj pilgrims in their respective states regarding the pilgrimage, accommodation in Mecca and Medina, transport, health facilities and safety measures. The trainers included a large number of women trainers. Officials from the Haj Committee of India, Customs, Air India, Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation, various banks and disaster management agencies guided the trainers.
Starting in 1954, the government for decades offered subsidies amounting to billions of rupees to poor Muslims wanting to perform Haj. In 2016, the sum was about $75m, down from about $100m in 2013. Muslim pilgrims were given the subsidy through concessionary airline fares. However in 2018 the government announced the end of a decades-long policy of giving subsidy to thousands of Muslims heading to the holy city of Mecca to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage. The decision followed a 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court, which directed the government to gradually reduce the subsidy and abolish it by 2022.
Haj and Umrah are religious pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Islamic religious doctrine dictates that every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford to do so is obligated to make Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. Haj takes place from the 8 th through the 12 th day of the last month of the Islamic year (Dhul Hijah). The timing of Haj (based on the lunar Islamic calendar) varies with respect to the Gregorian calendar, occurring about 11 days earlier each successive year (for example, it was held August 19–24 in 2018 and in 2019, August 9–14). This year it will be between July-August. Muslims may perform Umrah, the “minor pilgrimage,” any time of the year; unlike Haj, Umrah is not compulsory.
Every year, the Air India has been organising special 200 flights from seven destinations across the country to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Despite ongoing process of disinvestment in Air India, this facility will be continue, Naqvi said.
Raju Vernekar is a Media Professional based in Mumbai and is a regular contributor of Imphal Times. He had served as Chief Reporter at Free Press Journal (1996 – 2015 ). His Activities includes writing for different news papers, script writing/production for TV channels, Films Division. Writing poems in Marathi, Hindi, English, Guiding mass media students and helping people to solve their problems. Raju may be contacted at [email protected]
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