“Any woman over the age of 45 may travel without a Mahram with an organized group, provided she submits a letter of no objection from her Mahram authorizing her to travel for Hajj with the named group”. “On this, the committee observed, “…we suggest that a global expression of interest from vessel owners having newer vessels of 4000+ capacity, who are willing to dedicate their ships for carrying pilgrims during the three-month Haj season each year from Mumbai to Jeddah, may be called by MoMA”. Distribution of quota between the Haj Committee of India (HCoI) and Private Tour Operators (PTOs) will be rationalised in the ratio of 70:30 for the next five years.
The decision was taken in a Haj review committee, headed by retired IAS officer Afzal Amanullah. The pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia from 21 embarkation points at New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Indore, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Goa, Srinagar, Guwahati, Lucknow, Varanasi, Gaya, Bengaluru, Mangalore, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Ranchi and Bhopal. Interestingly, while the committee recommended abolishing Haj subsidy, a demand supported by the Muslims also, it is completely silent on the question why the airlines charged nearly double the airfare when much cheaper air carriers are available. He added that the money spent on the Haj subsidy will be used for the educational empowerment of the Muslim community. Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi while speaking to PTI on the same said, “A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime in 2012, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with”. “Some Muslim sects don’t allow women travel without a mahram”. The committee also recommended that coupons for ‘Adahi’ (sacrifice of animals) be made compulsory for all the pilgrims and the quota of Mehram be increased from the present 200 to 500, according to PTI. India’s quota for Haj pilgrims, as fixed by the Saudi Arabian government, was 1,36,020 in 2013, which was increased to 1,70,025 in 2017. The panel has suggested the ratio be 70:30 for the next five years, 70 per cent being the share for the Haj council and 30 for the private operators. The committee has recommended: “The conditions of male Mehram accompanying ladies should be insisted only for ladies below 45 years of age”. The committee has also recommended building of Haj houses in these EPs. It also rooted for consultations with the Saudi Government to be consulted regarding Haj travel by ship and thereafter floating an EOI to gauge the market for such travel. Looking at ways to phase out subsidy and reducing costs for individual pilgrims, the central government is looking at starting a sea journey to Jeddah.