After Centre scraps subsidy, now new Saudi tax adds to Haj pilgrims’ woes- The New Indian Express

Monday, April 30, 2018

NEW DELHI: The Haj pilgrimage will be costly this time not just due to abolition of subsidy but also because of the new costs imposed by the Saudi Arabia government. From this year, Saudi Arabia will impose five per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on services including transportation, guide fees and accommodation at some places. Mobile recharge will also become costlier for the same reason. The people in the know say the pilgrims will have to pay about `12,000 more for this new tax.

An additional financial burden awaits non-first-time pilgrims. Sources in the Haj Committee of India (HCOI) told the Sunday Standard that the Saudi Arabian authorities have decided to impose a fee of Saudi Riyal 2,000 (`35,000) on all applicants who have performed Haj or Umrah in the past. Umrah is a shorter pilgrimage than Haj. Unlike Haj, Umrah can be done throughout the year. While Haj is mandatory for physically and financially able Muslims, Umrah is not compulsory.

India will have 1,75,025 people performing Haj this year. While 47,023 pilgrims will go through private tour operators, the rest are taking help of HCOI. Last year, the Committee charged `2 lakh for Haj with ordinary accommodation and `2.34 lakh for deluxe accommodation, which is closer to Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The Haj pilgrims are scheduled to leave from 20 embarkation points from July 14 to August 16.

Haj Committee of India CEO Maqsood Ahmed Khan says though all three financial burdens  — the removal of Haj subsidy, the imposition of VAT and the pilgrimage fees — will impact some pilgrims, the new tax will certainly affect all of them. 

“The absence of Haj subsidy is affecting those who have opted to travel from small cities. The people who have chosen embarkation points like Delhi, Mumbai etc won’t be impacted. The pilgrimage fees will also increase the cost of only a certain category of pilgrims, i.e., those who are not first-timers. But VAT is going to impact all pilgrims because there are certain expenses which all Hajis will incur and all these expenses will be taxed,” Khan said, adding that the HCOI is advising the people to plan their expenses for this reason.