Tuesday, May 1, 2018
New Delhi: The government has floated a global tender seeking applications from shipping firms as part of its efforts to revive the option of sending Haj pilgrims by sea, Union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia had earlier given the go-ahead to India's plan to revive the option of travelling by sea to Jeddah, more than two decades after the practice was stopped.
"We have issued a global tender. We have asked for applications from shipping companies," Naqvi told reporters here.
The ministry secretary and joint secretary will soon hold talks in Saudi Arabia with officials from its shipping ministry and others, he added.
Asked when the sea route would become operational for Haj pilgrims, Naqvi said: "We are trying and our goal is for 2019. It will only be from Mumbai."
The journey by sea would take three or four days, he said.
Earlier this year, Naqvi had confirmed that Saudi Arabia had given its nod to revive the option of sea travel after he and Saudi Arabia's Haj and Umrah minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten signed a bilateral annual agreement regarding the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Naqvi said a record number of people from India would, for the first time since Independence, go for the Haj pilgrimage this year without any subsidy. The government, he added, has "succeeded in getting India's Haj quota increased for the second consecutive year and now, for the first time after Independence, a record 175,025 pilgrims from India will go to Haj 2018".
This year, a total of 128,702 pilgrims, about 47 per cent of them women, will travel through the Haj Committee of India. The rest will go through private tour operators, he said.
Naqvi also said 1,308 Indian women would for the first time perform Haj without the company of a "mahram" or male guardian.
The minister said in 2017, a total of Rs 1,030 crore was paid to airlines as airfare for 124,852 Haj pilgrims. In 2018, Rs 973 crore will be paid to the airlines for the 128,702 Haj pilgrims going through the Haj Committee of India. "It means, apart from ending the Haj subsidy, we have saved Rs 57 crore on airfare," he said.
The Haj process has been made completely digital, which has helped in making it "transparent and pro-pilgrim", Naqvi added. PTI