With India’s Haj quota being increased by 5,000, online searches and bookings for the Mumbai-Mecca route have seen a significant rise.
According to Haj Pilgrimage Data 2018, there was a 23% rise in the number of people from the city who searched for flights on the route. Delhi witnessed 21% growth, while in Hyderabad and Chennai the figures were up by 12% and 9 % respectively.
ixigo, the travel portal that prepared the data, said that there was a visible growth in flight bookings to Mecca from the city as compared with last year. Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder of ixigo, said, “Every year, bookings to Saudi Arabia reach an all-time high during Haj. This year, we witnessed a significant increase in travel searches and bookings from across the country. This growth can be attributed to favourable initiatives such an increase of 5,000 in India’s Haj quota.”
On Sunday, Union Minister for Minorities Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi flagged off the first Haj flight from Mumbai to Mecca. Pilgrims boarding the flight were greeted with flowers and given a prayer book and a Ja namaaz , which is used while reciting the namaz . Addressing pilgrims at the car parking area of Terminal 2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International airport, Mr. Naqvi said, “It is a historical pilgrimage when without subsidy Indians will perform Haj. This year, 1.75 lakh Indians will perform Haj at the holy place of Mecca. With the great efforts of the Prime Minister, the Haj quota has increased by 40,000 in the last two years.”
Mr. Naqvi claimed that the Goods and Services Tax has had no effective impact on the travel expenses of the pilgrims. He said from next year, the pilgrims could board a ship from Mumbai to Saudi Arabia. He said, “Two separate ships for Haj pilgrimage will be made available by 2019.” Meanwhile, Ibrahim Bhaijaan, a member of the Central Haj Committee, demanded the withdrawal of the GST and a further increase in the Haj quota for the State.
The decision to hike the number of pilgrims from India by 5,000 was made by the government of Saudi Arabia in January. The the second hike in two years came days after Mr. Naqvi signed a bilateral annual agreement for Haj 2018 with Saudi Minister for Haj and Umrah Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten. Last year, Saudi Arabia increased India’s Haj quota by 35,000.
Mr. Naqvi had said that three years the quota was 1.36 lakh and has increased to a record 1,75,025 in the past two years. About 3.55 lakh applications were received for Haj 2018. The Haj Committee finalised the names of pilgrims for this year’s Haj through a lucky draw. Around 1,300 Muslim women who have applied for the pilgrimage without a mehram (male guardian) will be exempt from the lucky draw and all of them will be allowed to go.
Saudi Arabia has also given a nod to the Indian government’s decision to revive the option of sending Haj pilgrims by sea.