The State Haj Committee and various Haj welfare organisations in the State have come in support of the Union government’s decision to slash 20 per cent Haj quota (as was insisted by the Saudi government) entirely from the share of the Private Tour Operators instead of dividing it among private operators and the Central Haj Committee this year.
The Saudi Arabian government in a communication sent to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in the first week of June had suggested a 20 per cent cut in the flow of pilgrims from the country as was from the rest of the world, to the Holy Kaaba owing to some ongoing expansion works there.
The decision had come at a time when the pilgrims who were going under the aegis of different State Haj committees had already completed half of the official formalities they had to fulfil before the journey while the private operators had only sent in their applications to get their due quota sanctioned from the MEA.
Earlier, the Saudi government as per the bilateral Haj agreement signed between the two countries had allocated 1,70,000 Haj seats for India this year. The MEA had also divided this among the Central Haj Committee and private operators (1,25,000 for Haj committees and 45,000 for the latter).
In the wake of the Saudi’s suggestion to effect a cut in the seat share, different organisations and the State Haj Committee had urged the MEA to retain the Haj Committees’s quota and make the 20 per cent cut entirely from the private operators. This would leave the entire private operators in the country to divide around 17,000 seats among them for this year.
Despite the pressure from the private operators and a section of the Muslim scholars’ bodies, the MEA was learned to have preferred to leave the Haj Committees’ quota untouched at least for this year.
State Haj Committee chairman Kottumala T.M. Bapu Musliar, said it would only be “unfair” if the MEA took a decision on the contrary. All the 8,470 pilgrims selected from the State under the Haj Committee, he said, had already remitted their first instalment of Rs.75,000 to the committee. “All of them had been given two rounds of training and their passports submitted to the authorities,” said Mr. Musliar.
“A denial of chance even if it is for a small share of them at this stage would only be cruel,” he added.
Most of the pilgrims, selected under the Haj committee, are elderly people hailing from economically weaker sections of society. Majority of them are also above the age of 70 with weak health. “Denying these poor and elderly pilgrims a chance to accommodate the private tour operators’ candidates, who are relatively younger and affluent would only be unjust,” said Kerala Haj Welfare Forum general secretary P.T. Imbichi Koya.