Govt mulls Hajj subsidy but warns pilgrims of ‘problems’ ahead

ISLAMABAD, May 01 : Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Senator Talha Mahmood has expressed the hope that the government may give a subsidy to the intending Hajjis but warned the pilgrims that they could face “problems” during the pilgrimage.

Talking to a private TV channel on Sunday, Mahmood maintained that the expensive Hajj could cost much less but for that they have to bring down the expenditures.

“I am hopeful of extending some subsidy to the intending Hajjis, however, we are facing a number of difficulties at the moment,” he said, warning that there could be plenty of problems during Hajj but he is trying to give maximum relief to the pilgrims.

The minister recalled that the federal government and the Ministry of Religious Affairs had given a subsidy of around Rs150,000 to pilgrims during last year’s Hajj. “There is no subsidy this time but if we are able to lower our costs then we can give back that amount of money to the pilgrims,” he elaborated.

Mahmood further said “If God gives me another opportunity then the next year’s Hajj will be conducted excellently. But at the moment, our policy is not right as there are many loopholes in the Hajj plan.”

While expressing displeasure about Aviation Ministry’s approach, the minister said that “PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) wants the government to use its service for transportation of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia but I am not satisfied with their service”.

He further said he had recently visited Saudi Arabia in connection with Hajj arrangements and the PIA flight by which he travelled was late by over two hours and even on return, it was one hour late. “The seats were also not comfortable,” he added.

“It is up to the PIA to think how they can improve their service as his ministry will face the music if PIA flights are delayed by five hours in Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding that even the Saudi civil aviation department was not satisfied with PIA’s performance.

Responding to a question, Mahmood declared that he will not draw any salary from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. “I have never wanted a salary from the government all my life. I even do not know how much salary I am entitled to. I spent from my own pocket during my recent visit to Saudi Arabia,” he further said.

Earlier, addressing a news conference in Islamabad on Saturday, Mahmood had said that 180,000 pilgrims would perform Hajj this year, and the first Hajj flight would depart on May 20 or May 21.

He had warned that action would be taken against private Hajj operators who would not fulfil their commitments. He had also said that arrangements were planned to be completed during Ramazan. “I cannot arrange an ideal Hajj, but I will definitely try to reduce the miseries of the public during their pilgrimage,” he added.

“When I assumed the Ministry’s charge, there were no arrangements at all. I had to go to Saudi Arabia urgently and now the Hajj operation has been set into motion. As many as 34,000 pilgrims went under the government scheme in 2022, and 45,000 went under the private scheme,” Mahmood had said.

He had said that 180,000 pilgrims would proceed on Hajj this year and they were comparing this year’s Hajj arrangements with 2019. “I am not yet satisfied with the arrangements and maybe I have to go to Saudi Arabia again. I am confident that the issues will be successfully resolved,” he had added.

The minister had said that all the Khuddam-ul-Hajj who evade their duty would face a three-day TA/DA deduction.

“In the second phase, they will be deported. If the promises we made to the pilgrims are not fulfilled, I will ensure that they will also get blacklisted,” he had added.

He had further said that the operators who deviate from their commitments would be fined as well.

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