It is not just South African pilgrims battling to deal with the impact of the haj quota reduction this year. Arab pilgrims are now struggling to deal with the 50% cut in the domestic haj quota and a 60% hike in their umrah prices. At the same time, India, like all other foreign countries found their pleas not to cut their quota by 20% had fallen on deaf ears. The Times of India reported Thursday that there would be no reduction in the 125,000 pilgrims under the government’s Haj panel, but the quota of private tour operators would be reduced by 20% cent.
“The quota of private tour operators will be reduced by 20%. They will be compensated next year. However, the quota of the Haj Committee of India will not change as mostly poor people benefit from it,” external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told the reporters after discussing the issue with around 200 delegates from all over the country.
“I know there is anxiety (among pilgrims), but there is a need to make some sacrifice,” he said. The Haj Committee of India welcomed the move. “We welcome the government’s decision. It will benefit all the Hajis of the panel,” chairman of the Haj Committee of India Qaiser Shamim said.
The problem arose after the Saudi Arabia government reduced the quota of 2013 Haj pilgrims of all countries by 20%, and its own by 50% due to construction work going on in the shrine areas, including Mecca and Medina. The construction is aimed at expanding facilities for the pilgrims. Since then, the Indian government had been concerned over reducing the number of pilgrims, fearing the law and order situation and negative propaganda against it, said Shamim.
According to government officials, out of India’s quota of 1.7 lakh for the annual Haj pilgrimage this year, 125,000 have been selected by the Haj Committee through draw of lots. The rest are going through private tour operators. Mostly poor people go through the Haj panel on a government subsidy. Following the decision, the quota of private tour operators, numbering around 45,000 would be cut by 20%, said the officials.
“The poor should get a priority. I have spoken to the attorney general on the legal implications of the decision, if any,” said Khurshid. He appealed to the delegates to explain the situation to the people and said it was being done to create a good atmosphere. Stating that the government was trying to improve travel facilities, the minister clarified that the new rule that a person can go through the Haj panel only once means that others should also be able to benefit from the subsidy.
Khurshid also suggested the Haj panel should explore the idea of setting up a Haj fund similar to Indonesia. He released a booklet on Haj guidelines for the pilgrims in nine regional languages, besides Hindi and English. Earlier, Shamim said the Indian contingent mostly consists of senior citizens and the government should consider providing some incentives so that youngsters are drawn to the annual pilgrimage. “Malaysia and Indonesia send a large number of youngsters to Haj due to the belief that it is better to go on pilgrimage before marriage,” he said.
Back home, South Africa’s haj quota of 2,500 was cut by 500, all of whom are now in the process of being informed by haj operators and the South Africa Haj and Umrah Council. The formula used to de-accredit hujjaj is based on the registration for accreditation between 12 January 2012 and 1 February 2012, as well those hujjaj who have yet to complete payment of the haj packages, mainly because they are not financially ready to go this year after the 15% devaluation of the local currency. VOC/TIMES OF INDIA/ARAB NEWS
500 Broken Hearts – Whilst Umrah Visas Remain Contentious
The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (SAHUC) has confirmed that all hujjaj who have been affected by the 20% cut in the SA quota this year have now been contacted.
SAHUC confirmed to Voice of the Cape that all calls to the 375 affected hujjaj who registered for accreditation after 12 January 2012 were completed by Thursday.
Secretary General of SAHUC, Shaheen Essop confirmed that hajj operators had been in talks with another 125 hujjaj who had voluntarily deferred their haj to next year for various reasons.
This included people who were ready to go for haj after the deadline who had been swapped with others who registered earlier and are no longer able to go. Jointly, it makes for the full 500 that was cut from the SA haj quota of 2,500.
However it’s the visa’s for Umrah that remains a contentious issue. Speaking to Radio Islam, Fazila Malek from New Heights Travel said currently it’s a disaster.
“The systems have all shut due to the fact that there’s a lot of people in the Kingdom right now and the ministry has closed the visas until the people that are holding visas of Rajab needs to be exited and then the visas will be starting within 7 days time again,” said Malek.
Malek reiterated that hujjaj that planned themselves and are wanting to go for Umrah and are not holding a mofa which is a visa number will have to wait until the system opens. “For those that are going within this 2 to 3 days duration definitely will not be able to go due to the fact that the system is closed,”said Malek.
“For those that got their internet tickets and have not made the accommodation arrangement as well as with the visas should really start doing their homework as far as getting their visa,” said Malek. “Because otherwise nobody will be really sitting with any visas but sitting with costly factors, losing out with their tickets and obviously their accommodation.”
“And this also to be recorded, this is not only South Africa but worldwide, worldwide,” added Malek.