By Linus Garg
First publised on 2023-02-10 03:42:24
There is good news for Haj pilgrims, especially single women above 45 who wish to go on the pilgrimage. The government has come out with a new Haj policy which builds on the earlier (2018-2022) one. This time, the package cost for the pilgrimage has been reduced by up to Rs 50000 and new embarkation points have been added taking the total to 25. Application forms have also been made free for the first time. Further, Saudi Arabia has increased the Indian Haj quota to 1.75 lakh this year (the number was just 79237 last year). The government has allotted 90% of the quota to the Haj Committee of India (HCI) and the rest to private operators. In a significant move, one that is likely to do away with corruption and influence-peddling, the government has also given up its discretionary quota by merging it with the HCI quota.
The embarkation points have been increased to provide relief to Haj pilgrims in far off areas such as Agartala, for example, which is now one of the new embarkation points. The Haj package cost has been reduced by putting the onus of arranging foreign exchange and items such as umbrellas, bags and bed sheets on the pilgrims. Earlier, they had to deposit the money for these with the HCI. This is a relief as the Haj cost was raised by 50% to Rs 399500 in 2022, up from Rs 269700 in 2019. The government will make special arrangements for women, infants, persons with disabilities and the elderly.
But the most significant change is in allowing single women above 45 to apply as individuals (subject to the terms of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Earlier, these individuals had to form a group by themselves to apply. But now the HCI will try to form a group of such individual women to satisfy the terms of the Saudi authorities. This will allow such single women who do not find group partners to undertake the pilgrimage. In successive Haj policies, the Centre has been trying to make the pilgrimage less costly and ensure that people from all over India can experience it without facing problems. It has also been focusing on women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. This is welcome.
Picture courtesy: Deccan Herald (caption ours)