Haj pilgrimage to cost moreJune 12th, 2008 - 11:52 am ICT by IANS
New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) The annual Haj pilgrimage is likely to cost much more with accommodation at the holy site in Saudi Arabia increasing by about Rs.4,000 and airfares being hiked too. According to sources in the ministry of external affairs (MEA), Haj pilgrims who travel through government agencies enjoying subsidies may have to shell out substantially more to stay in Makkah Mukarramah close to the main mosque.
“Haj agencies in Saudi Arabia have requested the Haj Committee of India to reduce the number of pilgrims as they are facing a shortage of shelters around the Haram Shareif (the main mosque) due to development works taking place,” said a source in the ministry.
“There could be an increase of at least Rs.4,000 in the accommodation itself,” he estimated.
Tariff in the shelters in the green area, around the main mosque, has increased from 2,700 to 3,000 Saudi Riyal (SR). The fee has also been increased in the next belt, known as the white area, from SR.1,600 to SR.2,000. Similarly, accommodation in the outer periphery will now cost SR.1,500 from SR.1,050.
Combined with this hike in tariff is the increase in airfares. Ministry sources admitted that the Haj Committee may be forced to raise charges for pilgrims.
“There are certain things which are not in our control,” a top official in the ministry told IANS.
Pilgrims seem to have little way out with officials saying that the government was in no position to increase the current subsidy of Rs.4 billion.
A pilgrim travelling through Haj committee spends only Rs.12,000 for his trip whereas the airfare itself is Rs.40,000.
An expert committee, consisting of representatives from the ministries of finance and civil aviation, had recommended that the Haj Committee charge at least Rs.20,000 from each pilgrim. This was rejected by the MEA last year. The committee has now proposed that Rs.25,000 be charged.
The Saudi Airlines, which along with India’s national carrier Air India carries the pilgrims to Jeddah, the nearest airport to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah, has also sought a 35 percent increase in its charges this year, the sources said.
The government’s Haj Committee sends about 110,000 pilgrims a year; another 51,000 go through private agencies. India has been pressing that its Haj quota be increased by 15,000, but the Saudi Arabian government has agreed to just 4,000.
India has also sought 60,000 units within the one kilometre green area for accommodating its Haj pilgrims. However, it has got only half that number.