The Indian government has initiated the move for online applications for Haj 2021, which is likely to see just about 35,000 people undertake the pilgrimage in June and July from 10 cities with direct flights to Saudi Arabia, as against 21 earlier
Ashok Kumar | Clarion India
MUMBAI — The Indian government should revive the Haj Committee, especially now that it has issued new guidelines for Haj 2021, the former chairman of the panel said on Wednesday.
“There has been no proper Haj committee for the past 18 months, and the previous committee too had got two extensions,” Mehboob Ali Kaiser, the former chairman of the Haj Committee of India, told Clarion India on Wednesday. “India sends the largest contingent of pilgrims on Haj, and the committee should be functioning normally.”
According to Kaiser, who is the Lok Janshakti Party MP from Khagaria constituency in Bihar, the Haj committee is run by bureaucrats; there is need to quickly appoint the other members, especially now that the online application process for Haj 2021 had begun.
Earlier this month, the government issued the action plan for Haj 2021, allowing online application from November 7 to December 10. The amounts have to be deposited between March and April 2021, which will be followed by a vaccine camp in May, and the likely departure of pilgrims in the last week of June.
Jina Nabi Shaikh, the former vice-chairman of the committee, who is based in Goa, told this correspondent that he expects only 35,000 pilgrims are likely to go for Haj. “The costs will also be much higher this time, going up from Rs2.6 lakh to Rs3.75 lakh,” said Shaikh. “The higher rates are because there will be just three pilgrims in a room now, as against the earlier six.”
The Indian government has also slashed the departure points for the pilgrims from 21 to 10. These include Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and Srinagar. But many political leaders have objected to the revision of departure points and the removal of cities in their states.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, urging him to operate flights from Chennai to Jeddah. “It will be logistically challenging for Haj pilgrims, who are mostly senior citizens, to travel from various locations in the State of Tamil Nadu to Kochi for boarding the flight,” he said. “These pilgrims have represented to me about the hardship and difficulties they are likely to face while embarking on the Haj pilgrimage from Kochi.”
Vijai Sardesai, president, Goa Forward Party, accused the BJP of removing Goa from the embarkation point for political reasons. “Cancellation of Goa as venue of Haj pilgrims is @BJP4Goa revenge on Muslims for not voting for them in SouthGoa LS polls & indicative of rabid communal politics to follow under them.We will work to restore Haj as well as subsidise travel to Shirdi, Vailankanni & Tirupati,” tweeted Sardesai.
According to Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the Union Minority Affairs Minister, the pilgrims will have to submit a negative RT-PCR test certificate to be conducted 72 hours before embarking for Haj. Only people between the ages 18 and 65 will be allowed to go on Haj this year.
Women undertaking Haj without ‘mehram’ (male partner) can also apply; last year, about 2,300 women had applied under this category.
In April, the Minority Affairs Ministry had converted 14 Haj houses across India – except those in Mumbai and Hyderabad – into quarantine facilities for more than 20,000 Covid-19 patients.
Kaiser points out that India had sent the largest contingent of pilgrims, adding up to 2 lakh, last year. And earlier in March, 2 lakh Muslims had applied, and the committee had cleared 1.25 lakh applications. They were to fly to Saudi Arabia in June for Haj. However, the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in the cancellation of the plans.
All the applicants had paid the first instalment of about Rs80,000, and some had also paid the remaining Rs1.2 lakh.
The Haj committee has refunded Rs2,100 crore to the aspirants of Haj who had applied for the pilgrimage but could not travel last time due to Covid-19 pandemic.