After ‘Nitaqat’, the restrictive labour law, hit hundreds of migrant workers, another Saudi Arabian decision is going to impact a large number of Indians. This time, it is the Haj pilgrims at the receiving end. The Saudi government has decided to cut down the number of Indian pilgrims by 20 per cent this year causing unrest among the aspiring Hajis.

The Saudi decision is aimed at preventing congestion and stampedes in the grand mosque at Makkah during the annual pilgrimage in view of the ongoing expansion work there.

Authorities in the desert kingdom also plan to reduce domestic pilgrims by 50 per cent this year.

This has caused dismay among them as they have already gone through the process of selection through ‘qurrah’ (draw of lots). A total of 1.70 lakh pilgrims are slated to perform Haj this year – 1.24 lakh through the Haj Committees and the rest through private tour operators.

“If this decision is implemented, a good number of selected pilgrims will be affected,” remarked Syed Khaleeluddin Ahmed, chairman, A.P. State Haj Committee.

He said the Saudi authorities have urged the pilgrims to postpone their Haj and Umra plans, if possible, since expansion work is going on in ‘Mataf’, the circumambulation area, where only 39,000 faithful could be accommodated per hour now.

Consequently, pilgrims who have opted for the ‘green category’ to be near the grand mosque will have to be accommodated at faraway Azizia since a number of buildings have been pulled down in Makkah.

Officials say there is no official communication yet from the Ministry of External Affairs, but they are planning to tell the pilgrims to prepare for the unexpected. A total of 7,322 pilgrims have been selected from Andhra Pradesh this year out of the 17,000 applicants.

“This time there is no scope for confirmation of the waiting list candidates even if some pilgrims cancel their journey plans,” said Abdul Hameed, executive officer, Haj Committee.

Whether or not the 20 per cent cut will be proportionately distributed between pilgrims going through the Haj Committee and private tour operators is not known. But officials expect the Haj Committee pilgrims to be spared since they have gone through the process of selection and have even remitted the money.

The Haj Committee chairman has already taken up the matter with the Consul General in Jeddah, Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, and conveyed the feelings of the pilgrims here. A clear picture is expected to emerge at the ensuing Haj seminar being held in New Delhi on June 27.