First batches of Haj pilgrims leave, visa trouble for some (Roundup)

October 30th, 2008 - 8:37 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Hyderabad/Lucknow, Oct 30 (IANS) The first of India’s 168,000 Haj pilgrims from across the country left for the holy city of Madina in Saudi Arabia Thursday. There was, however, some disappointment too, as some prospective Haj pilgrims were unable to catch the first flight due to a delay in approval of their visas. Flights for Saudi Arabia left from Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and other centres.

The first flight — a Saudi Airlines flight — carrying 299 Haj pilgrims left at 5.30 a.m. from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad, near Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.

About 7,000 Haj pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh will fly to Madina through 23 flights till Nov 16.

There was confusion among pilgrims before departure, as 47 pilgrims of the first batch had not received their passports, which were sent to Mumbai for endorsement. The authorities assured them that they would be sent through subsequent flights.

Earlier, emotional scenes were witnessed at Haj House, the embarkation point for pilgrims as hundreds of relatives bid goodbye amid ‘talbeeh’ or the Arabic words uttered by pilgrims in praise of Allah during the Haj.

In Jammu and Kashmir, 166 pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia on a Srinagar-Jeddah flight.

“This year over 8,000 pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir are going for the holiest Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The first batch of 166 pilgrims is leaving today (Thursday) on a direct flight from here to Jeddah in the afternoon,” Abdul Rashid Mir, the state Haj officer, said in Srinagar.

The first flight carrying 419 Haj pilgrims from different parts of Kerala took off from Kozhikode International Airport for Saudi Arabia Thursday afternoon.

Air India will operate 25 flights from Kozhikode ferrying around 9,500 Muslim pilgrims from Kerala, Lakshadweep and Mahe, a small Union Territory enclave in Kerala.

The first Haj flight from the national capital this year took off Thursday evening from Delhi airport with 240 pilgrims headed for Jeddah.

The Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft took off at about 4.40 p.m., an hour later than its scheduled time of 3.30 p.m.

Mohammed Moassam Ahmed, a member of the All India Haj Committee and chief coordinator of the Haj operations in Delhi, told IANS that over 80 applicants were not able to get visas as the Saudi embassy could not process them.

There was, however, disappointment for some as about 290 pilgrims from Uttar Pradesh failed to board the first flight for Haj from here as their “passports and visas” had not arrived, a pilgrim said.

There was confusion among the Uttar Pradesh pilgrims, who assembled here to board the first flight for Haj from the state capital.

Of the 590 pilgrims, who were to leave for Haj Thursday, nearly 290 of them could not get their passports stamped with visas — consequently the flight was cancelled.

The annoyed pilgrims held a demonstration at the state Haj House, demanding an explanation from the officials concerned.

Uttar Pradesh minister and chairman of state Haj committee Naseemuddin Siddiqui Thursday blamed the central government for delay in approval of visas for thousands of Haj aspirants from the state.

“This speaks volumes of the central government’s neglect and apathy towards the plight of those who were waiting to proceed for Haj by the first flight,” Siddiqui said.

Of the 168,000 pilgrims, 123,211 would fly through the Haj committee while the rest would bank on the services of private tour operators. While Air India will fly 63,511 pilgrims, Saudi Airlines will carry 59,700 devotees.

On an average, 12 flights would carry about 3,600 pilgrims per day till Nov 16 from Delhi, Ahmedabad, Aurangabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Srinagar and Varanasi.

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