Haj 2019: Religious affairs minister walks out of cabinet meeting after disagreement on subsidy

In a meeting that saw a considerable degree of conflict between government officials, the federal cabinet approved the Haj policy for 2019 while rejecting a proposal for subsidy put forth by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, media reported.

According to officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, who spoke to media on condition of anonymity, some federal ministers opposed the proposal of a government subsidy in the Haj policy for the ongoing year.

The religious affairs ministry had proposed a subsidy of Rs45,000 per pilgrim.

But according to officials, other ministers at the meeting argued against the proposal saying: “Those who are financially able should perform Haj, those who are unable should not go.”

The officials added that Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri walked out of the cabinet meeting when the subsidy was not approved and postponed a news conference scheduled to take place following the meeting.

This marks the first time that the Haj policy was not announced by the religious affairs minister and was instead conveyed briefly through a routine press conference held by the Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the news conference, when asked about whether a government subsidy would be provided, Chaudhry simply said today’s meeting had ended with the decision “to provide maximum facilities to pilgrims and no decision was taken regarding a subsidy”.

Under the government Haj scheme for 2019, a package for residents from the northern region of the country will now cost Rs436,975 and for residents of the south region (Karachi, Quetta and Sukkur) it will cost Rs426,975. The charges are exclusive of the costs for qurbani (animal sacrifice) services.

For those opting to avail qurbani services, the costs go up by Rs20,000 per category. Therefore, for northern residents, the package will cost Rs456,975 and for southern residents it will come to Rs446,975.

Additionally, pilgrims are required to carry a sum of 2,000 Saudi riyals in excess while travelling.

As per documents from the policy briefing, the rates for the above-mentioned packages have been calculated at Rs39 per Saudi riyal.

Chaudhry in his press conference said direct Haj flights to Saudi Arabia will also run from Quetta, and that a Haj camp will be held in Gilgit this year.

Biometric services will now be provided to people in far-flung areas as well so they do not have to travel to the main cities to fulfil this Haj application requirement, he announced.

Providing details regarding the quota fixed this year, the information minister said applications will be open to a total of 184,210 aspiring pilgrims. Of the total quota, 60 per cent will be allotted to the government and the remaining 40pc will be granted to private Haj Group Organisers (HGOs).

Of the total applicants, 10,000 seats will be reserved for senior citizens who are above the age of 80 years.

From the government quota, 1.5pc will be assigned to hardship cases and 500 seats will be reserved for labourers and low paid workers registered with the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI).

The document further states that all pilgrims would be provided meals three times a day through authorised caterers during their stay in Makkah and Madina and through the respective makatib in Mashair (Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah).

Negotiations are currently underway with Saudi authorities to provide immigration clearance facility at Jinnah International Airport for those travelling from Karachi as part of the kingdom’s ‘Road to Makkah’ project.