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


ISLAMABAD, APR 30 (DNA) — Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Senator Talha Mahmood has expressed the hope that the government may give subsidy to the intending Hajis but warned the pilgrims that they could face “problems” during the pilgrimage.

Talking to a private TV channel on Sunday, Talha Mahmood maintained that the expensive Hajj could cost much less but for that they have to bring down the expenditures. The minister said “I am hopeful of extending some subsidy to the intending Hajis.

 However, we are facing a number of difficulties at the moment.” He warned that there could be plenty of problem during the 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.

Talha 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 “PIA 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 for 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 music if PIA flights are delayed by five hours in Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding even the Saudi civil aviation department was not satisfied with PIA’s performance.

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

Talha Mahmood said “I do not want anything from the ministry.”  Addressing a news conference in Islamabad on Saturday, Talha Mahmood had said 180,000 pilgrims will perform Hajj this year, and the first Hajj flight will depart on 20 or 21 May.

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

Talha Mahmood said “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.”

He said that 180,000 pilgrims will 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 said.

The minister said that all the Khuddam-ul-Hajj who will evade their duty will face 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 added. The minister had said the operators who deviate from their commitments with the Hajj pilgrims will be fined as well. — DNA