In line with the new Hajj policy, the government wants private Hajj operators (PHOs) to restrict intending pilgrims from performing Hajj or Umrah more than once in five years.
Under the new policy, the restriction has already been placed on pilgrims intending to perform Hajj or Umrah using the government subsidy.
“We will bind private operators to not facilitate those intending pilgrims who perform Hajj every year,” Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Ahmed Shah informed the National Assembly (NA) on Friday.
“People go to Saudi Arabia through these (private) operators every year and do not return back to Pakistan,” he said, adding that a shift is needed to keep check on PHOs now.
MNA Khalida Mansoor observed that the PHOs were not following the rules set by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. “The government should move against private tour operators…they are fleecing the people.”
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had also moved against PHOs earlier this year on account of complaints by pilgrims. The bureau is still unable to initiate investigations, however, due to a lack of cooperation from the ministry concerned, a senior official told The Express Tribune. He added that NAB has meanwhile started inquiry into complaints by pilgrims against Gerry’s Travels over non-provision of services to them.
Khalida Mansoor also criticised the decision to increase the fare from Rs20,000 to Rs70,000 for all classes. However, Khurshid Shah blamed the increase in fare on rising inflation.
The government has signed four agreements with Saudi Arabia to facilitate 179,210 pilgrims this year under the new Hajj Policy. The Pakistani Mission in Saudi Arabia has also signed agreements with the National Adillah Establishment Madina, South Asian Pilgrims’ Muttawif Establishment, National Establishment Madina and General Transport Syndicate for facilitating pilgrims, Shah informed the House. They will provide transport to Pakistani pilgrims upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia and until their return to Pakistan, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.