Pilgrims undertaking Haj this year will have two more embarkation points, up from 17 last time, and will have to pay Rs 16,000 instead of Rs 12,000 last year.

These decisions in relation to the month-long Haj pilgrimage beginning tomorrow were taken at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on Monday.

The Haj operations would be carried out from 19 embarkation points as against 17 last year. Ranchi and Mangalore have been added as new embarkation points this time to facilitate travel of the pilgrims from Jharkhand and Karnataka, an official spokesman said.

Altogether 1,15,000 people will undertake the Haj this year under government’s subsidy scheme. Last year, the number was 1,23,211.

Under the subsidy scheme, each pilgrim will have to pay Rs 16,000 and rest of the cost will be borne by the government. Last year, each Haji had to pay Rs 12,000.

Sources in the Haj Committee, however, said the Cabinet decision on payment had come late as bookings have already been done at the rate of Rs 12,000. Rest of the amount will now have to be recovered from the pilgrims, they said.

The official spokesman said the Civil Aviation Ministry will be responsible for facilitating air travel for the pilgrims sponsored by the Haj Committee of India.

The pilgrims would travel by Air India, Saudi Arabian Airlines and National Air Services of Saudi Arabia.

Haj Committee sources said the Committee is calling those to embarkation points who have been given visas and not those whose visas are awaited. Visas for about 10,000 to 15,000 have not come yet.

A-H1N1 advisory

In view of the A-H1N1 scare, the Saudi government has advised vulnerable class of people, including children below 12 years, elderly people above 65 years and pregnant women to avoid the pilgrimage.

Air India would operate 137 special flights of Boeing 747-400, Airbus 310 and Airbus 330 aircraft to ferry Haj pilgrims to Jeddah and Madina.

The national carrier would additionally operate 117 hub and spoke flights to connect passengers to special Haj flights of Saudi Arabian Airlines and NAS Air.

Air India, which would fly approximately 40,000 pilgrims on these special flights, would also operate 30 extra-section flights to meet the requirement of Haj pilgrims.

The Haj flights to Jeddah and Madina with its own aircraft would be operated from Kolkata, Nagpur, Guwahati, Jaipur, Indore, Aurangabad and Srinagar. The hub and spoke flights would be operated from Patna, Ranchi, Varanasi and Mangalore.

Connections to Saudi Arabian flights would operate from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai and to NAS Air flights from Delhi and Kozhikode.

The first phase of the Haj operation to take pilgrims to Jeddah and Madina will be from October 20 -November 21, while the second phase to bring them back would begin from December 1 and go on till January 1.

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