- This year, the government’s Hajj sponsorship scheme could attract only 7,000 applications against a total quota of 44,000
Pakistan’s federal cabinet decided on Wednesday it would return the unutilized quota of the Hajj sponsorship scheme this year to Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said, as the cabinet approved important amendments to the Hajj Policy 2024.
The ‘Sponsorship Scheme Hajj’ was introduced by the government this year, allowing overseas Pakistanis to apply for Hajj or sponsor someone in Pakistan for the journey by paying in US dollars. In return, applicants would not have to participate in the balloting process for the pilgrimage.
This year, the government’s Hajj sponsorship scheme could only attract 7,000 applications against a total quota of 44,000. The numbers were a setback for Pakistan as the South Asian country hoped to generate $194 million from the scheme out of the total $284 million required for its 2023 Hajj operation.
In its previous meeting, the cabinet had constituted a committee to improve the Hajj Policy 2024 and under its recommendations, the cabinet amended some provisions of the policy on Wednesday.
“The federal cabinet approved amendments to the Hajj Policy 2024, according to which the unutilized quota of the private and government sponsorship schemes would be returned to the government of Saudi Arabia,” the PMO said.
It said Pakistan would enforce a “foolproof monitoring system” on financial arrangements made by Hajj group organizers, in accordance with the kingdom’s laws.
“Children below the age of 10 would also be able to perform Hajj according to the new Hajj policy,” the PMO added.
The cabinet also relaxed the conditions for pilgrims employing an “assistant or helper” for Pakistani pilgrims above the age of 80. The PMO said Hajj group organizers would enter into agreements with pilgrims to appoint helpers, enabling them to enlist the services of assistants during their stay in Saudi Arabia.
“The conditions would be inserted in the agreement for the provision of services and its violation would lead to imposition of fine and black listing of the relevant Hajj group organizer,” the PMO said.
The cabinet also ruled that a quota of 50 percent for hiring assistants would be reserved for Pakistani students studying in different universities of the kindgom. These students would be appointed as welfare staff, it added.
This year, Saudi Arabia restored Pakistan’s pre-coronavirus Hajj ratio of 179,210 pilgrims and also lifted the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme this year while the rest used private tour operators.
Source: Arab News
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