Pakistani citizens travelling for the holy pilgrimage of Hajj will now have to pay an extra Rs14,000 this year as the government has increased fares in line with the new Hajj policy, Minister for Religious Affairs Khursheed Shah announced on Thursday.
The new fare would be Rs97,500 for the North region (Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), while Rs87,500 has been fixed for the South region (Sindh and Balochistan). Shah was addressing a press conference flanked by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.
Justifying the increased fare, Shah blamed the fluctuating foreign exchange rate, saying that the value of the US dollar has increased, due to which fares have been increased this year. Responding to a question, the minister conceded that he could not convince his Saudi counterpart to increase the quota of Pakistani pilgrims this year.
“We requested them for 200,000 pilgrims but they did not give approval of the extra 20, 000 pilgrims,” Shah said, adding that the government in return resisted the Saudis, who wanted to decrease the number of pilgrims this year.
The minister informed media that the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, will transport only half the pilgrims, while the remaining would travel on Saudi Airlines.
He added that improved lodging facilities were being arranged for pilgrims at a distance from ‘Harram Sharif’ on cheaper rates, qualifying that better transport arrangements would also be made for less arduous commuting for pilgrims.
Additionally, the minister highlighted that the government has allocated 5% funds for the hardship scheme, to support pilgrims who sustain injuries or die while performing Hajj.
Hajj scam case
Meanwhile, confessing to mismanagement during the 2010 Hajj, Khursheed Shah said that the issue had been blown out of proportion and denied any involvement of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son in the infamous scandal.
Shah said that the government had arranged reimbursement from organisers, and paid approximately Rs0.5 billion as compensation to the pilgrims who had journeyed to the holy land in 2010.
Commenting on the issue, Information Minister Kaira said that the court had already deliberated on the case and found no evidence in this regard, which demonstrated that the case had little merit.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2013.