Special Reports

Indian Haj goodwill delegation

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 1 Nov. urged the Indian Haj delegation led by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rehman Khan to convey the good wishes of the 120 crore Indians to the people of Saudi Arabia. Meeting the goodwill delegation for Haj 2011, the prime minister said India enjoys excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Arab world, and would strive to promote them further.

Besides Khan, the delegation comprises Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed, Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, Kashmir legislator Hakim Yaseen, Amity Group senior vice president M.J. Rehman and Khargram (West Bengal's Murshidabad) Panchayat Samity member Abdul Kashem Sabhapati.

Saudi Arabia allotted a quota of 1.75 lakh Haj pilgrims for India this year out of a total of 22 lakh pilgrims allowed from all over the world to perform Haj annually. Of the 1.75 lakh, 50,000 were allotted to private tour agencies while the rest of the 1.25 lakh were handled by the Haj Committee of India (HCI).

HCI sources in Mumbai and the officials in the External Affairs Ministry (Haj Cell ) in New Delhi said that of the 1.25 lakh, a total of 11,000 seats were reserved for “VIP” category or “government category”, including 3,061 for MPs, 2,500 for chief ministers and another 500 for chairmen of Haj committees of different states and other categories. The remaining seats were distributed among the different states based on the ratio of their population. Tour operators charged as high as Rs 2-2.5 lakh against a maximum of Rs 1.20 lakh by the HCI per pilgrim.

Traditionally, the Central Government sends a “goodwill Haj delegation” comprising politicians and their representatives every year at government's cost. According to sources, 30 persons were sent last year in the delegation but it was brought down to 23 this year. Every year, there is a lot of pressure to get included in this delegation. Many, including ministers and MPs have been part of these delegations within a span of a few years.  According to last year’s figures, on an average every year more than Rs 8 lakh was spent on each delegation member during 2005-2007 and it jumped to Rs 13 lakh in 2008, that is many times more than the cost for an ordinary Haji.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2011 on page no. 17

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