Promised airfare cut for Hajj pilgrims doesn’t materialise

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

For nearly ten thousand pilgrims going on the Hajj this year from Jammu and Kashmir has just become a notch more difficult. Each pilgrim would now have to shell out about forty thousand rupees more to make the pilgrimage. 

In January this year, the Indian government had decided to withdraw the subsidy it was offering to the Hajj pilgrims. But the government, in order to compensate for the higher amount a pilgrim would have to pay, said it would make sure the air fare to Saudi Arabia is brought down so that a person making the pilgrimage doesn’t struggle to arrange the money for the Hajj. At the time it was said that each traveller would have to pay at least twenty-thousand rupees less.

So, a few days ago, when some of pilgrims went to the office of the state Hajj Committee to inquire how much cut they were going to get in the air fare, they were taken aback by what the officials told them. 

“As compared to the cost of Hajj-2017, we have been asked to pay Rs 35000 to 45000 more,” said Gull Muhammad Mir, a pilgrim. “A family where two members are scheduled to perform Hajj-2018 has to deposit seventy thousand to ninety thousand rupees more than its earlier calculation of expenses for this holy pilgrimage,” he said.

Another pilgrim, Ghulam Muhammad Ganie, said, “When we asked the authorities at State Hajj Committee about air fare slashing, they said that they have not received any such order and the amount has been fixed as per the directions received from government,” he said.

The would-be pilgrims made a mention of how the state Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had welcomed the announcement of the Indian government to cut the airfare that would allow people to make the pilgrimage.  The reduced airfare was aimed to ensure that the cost of Hajj 2018 per pilgrim is slightly lesser  than that of the last year, or at least would not be much higher despite the withdrawal of subsidy. The 18-49 per cent reduction in rates, as announced by the government earlier, was to be available on tickets for Jeddah and Medina on Air India, Saudia and Flynas, an airline based in Saudi Arabia.

“There are two categories of Hajj-aspirants as per the choosing of a location of accommodation in Saudi Arabia. One is known as Green (accommodation closer to Haram Sharief) and another is Aziziya (accommodation not so near ),” said Ghulam Muhammad Mir, another pilgrim.

He added that for Green, the total amount fixed by the government for the year 2018 is Rs 282450 and for Aziziya the amount is Rs 248300. In 2016, the amount for these categories was Rs 218350 and Rs 184450 respectively while in 2017 the amount was Rs 204650 and Rs 238000 respectively. 

Another group of Hajj aspirants who visited the office of the Greater Kashmir said that the Hajj Committee officials are asking the second time Hajj pilgrims to pay Rs 35000 more. “This extra payment is to be paid by those who had earlier performed Hajj or Umrah, both of them or either of them,” said Ghulam Hassan Nehgani, who had earlier performed Umrah.

The Executive officer of State Hajj Committee QamarSajad said that the announcement of the cut in airfare was made by the central government authorities and state authorities have no role in it. “Whatever we heard or read was through media about airfare slashing. What I can say is that last year the airfare was Rs 103000. In 2017, the Hajj aspirants had to pay only Rs 58000 as airfare given the subsidy of Rs 45000,” he said, adding, “This year, the airfare is Rs 100550 per pilgrim.”