ISLAMABAD: The government has extended the last date of Hajj applications for intending pilgrims across the country to July 2.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi said that “We have taken this decision since many Hajj applicants could not deposit their forms due to late delivery of machine-readable passports.”
Kazmi said that at least 30,000 people have already applied and that he hopes that the one week extension will help many more intending pilgrims to apply.
He added that he will extend the date further if the ministry does not meet the required number of 80,000 applications.
Disagreeing with the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs, Kazmi said that any reduction in Hajj costs was not possible under the current circumstance. The expenditure has been fixed with the approval of the federal cabinet so there is no need to revise the policy, the minister added.
The committee had directed the Religious Affairs Ministry to reduce Hajj fares.
The Hajj package has gone up by 19 per cent when compared with last year due to rising inflation. The total cost of flying out from Karachi or Quetta is Rs226,000. From other stations, this cost is Rs238,000.
Justifying the increase in Hajj expenditure, Kazmi said that the increase in fuel prices, devaluation of the Pakistani currency, rent of residential building for pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and additional facilities for pilgrims at Mina are some of the reasons for this increase.
“There was an acute shortage of buildings in the vicinity of Haram Sharif due to continuous demolition of buildings in Makkah,” he explained.
He went on to say that the banks have been directed to receive applications of those who have applied for readable passports. In this respect we are helping people to get their passports as early as possible. The Ministry also requested the passport offices in the State to issue passports to Hajj applicants within a week.
Reiterating the Hajj policy 2010, he said that as per the agreement with the Saudi government, 159,647 Pakistani nationals will be allowed to perform Hajj in 2010. The number of pilgrims under the government scheme would be 80,000.
Kazmi said that this year there would be no special quota and that pilgrims would be selected through a ballot under the government scheme.
Kazmi said that applicants who have been unsuccessful in the ballot during the last two years consecutively under the government scheme will be declared successful regardless.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2010.