Pakistan Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Mufti Abdul Shakoor has expressed the hope that the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme would help generate $194 million out of the total $284 million required for the smooth sailing of Hajj operation 2023.
He said the Ministry of Finance had pledged to provide the remaining approximately $90 million dollars.
Shedding light on the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme, the minister said it was introduced for overseas Pakistanis to meet the shortage of foreign exchange and fulfil the total quota of Hajj 179,210 pilgrims assigned by the Saudi government to Pakistan this year.
He said the federal cabinet had approved the Hajj Policy 2023, therefore, the ministry had decided to collect the Hajj applications from March 16 to 31 through 14 designated banks and hold Hajj balloting on April 5, according to the schedule.
He made it clear that the ministry was charging the Hajj expenses from the government pilgrims as it would be spent on their facilities throughout the holy journey.
According to the financial breakup, the estimated cost of Hajj from the Northern Region (Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Faisalabad, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot) was Rs 1,175,000, while for the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme (Northern Region) was approximately $4,325, he said, adding that the estimated cost of Hajj from Southern Region (Karachi, Quetta, Sukkur) was Rs1,165,000 while for the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme (Southern Region) was approximately $4,285.
The minister assured that in case of savings from the above-mentioned Hajj package, it would be refunded to the Hajj pilgrims through the bank accounts provided by them, adding that the applicants of the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme having no bank accounts, would be provided money in cash.
He said last year, on his personal request, the mandatory Hajj expenses were reduced by the Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah, as compared to the previous year. But this time, the global inflation had increased the cost of facilities in Pakistan as well as in Saudi Arabia and apart from this, the fall in the value of Pakistani rupee had a significant impact on the Hajj package, he maintained.
Abdul Shakoor said last year, our pilgrims were not able to get train facility, but this year, they could avail of the train facility in Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat. However, the pilgrims would have to bear the cost of this facility, he added.
He said due to the expansion project of the Haram in Madinah, the process of vacating and demolishing many residential units was underway, adding that all these issues had led to an overall increase in the cost of facilities.
He said despite all these factors, overseas Pakistanis would find it cheaper to perform Hajj from Pakistan than abroad.
This year, the government Hajj scheme expenditure was lower than other countries in the region such as India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, he added.
He said the total Hajj quota 179,210 would be divided between the public and private Hajj schemes with a ratio of 50 per cent each respectively.
He further said 50 per cent quota of public and private Hajj schemes i.e. 44,802 seats in each scheme were reserved for the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme.
The minister said under Sponsorship Hajj Scheme, a special facility was given to those Hajj pilgrims who were seeking foreign exchange from abroad in the specific dollar account of the ministry. “Overseas Pakistanis will be exempted from the balloting process due to remittance of allocated dollars in this account for themselves or their relatives in Pakistan.
Deposit of dollars from Pakistan is not allowed,” he added.
He said the quota of Sponsorship Hajj Scheme would be provided on ‘first come, first served’ basis which would be determined by the time and date of depositing the Hajj form in the bank. The registration for the Sponsorship Hajj Scheme would be stopped once the specified quota was completed, he maintained.
Abdul Shakoor said there was no age limit for Pakistani pilgrims this year as Saudi Arabia had removed the upper age limit of 65 years. The Shariah Mehram’ must be accompanied by female Hajj pilgrims however, the women over 45 years of age belonging to ‘Fiqa Jafria’ could go without Muharram, he clarified.
He said in the regular Hajj scheme, those pilgrims who had performed Hajj in the last five Hajj years i.e. 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 were not eligible to apply for Hajj this year except those ‘Mehram’ of women going for Hajj for the first time would also be exempted from the five-year ban.
He said the selection of regular Hajj scheme would be done through computerized balloting and the results of which would be available on the ministry’s website in a short span of time.
The minister said three per cent (2,688) of the total quota under the Government Hajj Scheme would be reserved for hardship cases (newborns, broken families).
He said applicants who failed in the regular Hajj scheme would be able to receive their money within seven days from the bank accounts provided or in the form of cash from the bank concerned.
Source: Pakistan Today