The government moved on Saturday to cut the quota of private tour operators for the upcoming annual Hajj pilgrimage by 10 per cent.
According to the Hajj Policy for 2016, the government will start inviting Hajj applications from April 18, and balloting will be held on April 29. The Hajj is expected to start in September.
At least 742 Hajj organisers on religious ministry’s roll
Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf announced the policy at a news conference late Saturday night. As many as 143,368 people will perform Hajj this year, he said. The Hajj policy was announced late this year because the Sindh High Court had granted a stay on a petition of private tour operators against a cut in their quota. However, the court later vacated the stay, allowing the government to announce the policy.
According to the policy, a larger share was set aside for the government-operated Hajj scheme this year which was increased to 60 per cent. Subsequently, the share of private tour operators was reduced to 40 per cent. Previously, the public-private sectors operated on a 50-50 basis.
Yousaf said his ministry had blacklisted five private tour companies based on pilgrims’ complaints. The government will strictly monitor private tour operators this year, he added.
‘Offensive question in Hajj applications will be amended’
The minister said the government has also approved an insignificant cut in prices, lowering them by just Rs120 from Rs264,971 charged last year to Rs264,851 per pilgrim this year.
According to the minister, Pakistan International Airlines, Shaheen Air, Airblue and Saudi Arabian Airlines will be allowed to carry intending pilgrims. Flights will be operated from Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, Multan, Rahim Yar Khan and Sukkur. Earlier this month, lawmakers expressed concerns over the delay in the announcement of the policy during a meeting of the standing committee on religious affairs and questioned the ministry’s performance.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2016.