NEW Delhi: The government of India is expected to come out with a new Haj policy this week, government sources told news agency PTI. They said that a key feature of the new policy, which is expected to be implemented from next year, will be to revive the option of sending pilgrims via the sea route from Mumbai to Jeddah. The sea route has not been used for the past more than two decades.
The sea route is being considered after the Supreme Court in 2012 asked the central government to abolish by the year 2022 the airways subsidy offered to Haj pilgrims.
The government feels the sea route will help cut down the travel expenses, the government sources said.
“It is in line with the apex court’s order and revives the option of sending pilgrims via ships to Saudi Arabia as it is a cheaper yet comfortable option,” a source said.
Pilgrims will continue to have the option of travelling by air from designated 21 embarkation points in the country, including Delhi and Mumbai, the sources said.
Another feature of the new policy may be the limiting of Haj pilgrimage to once in a lifetime.
The practice of ferrying the pilgrims by waterways was discontinued in 1995 on account of MV Akbari, the ship which used to transport them, growing old, the source said.
The sources said a modern ship can ferry 4,000 to 5,000 passengers at a time and cover the 2,300-odd nautical miles distance between Mumbai and Jeddah in two-three days.
Before the sea route was closed, it used to take nearly a week for pilgrims to reach Jeddah from the Yellow Gate in Mumbai’s Mazgaon, the source added.
On the idea of restricting the pilgrimage to once in a lifetime, another source said it was to ensure that all people got a fair chance to undertake the journey.
“The experience so far has been that rich people travel more than once to Saudi Arabia. Since we have a fixed Haj quota, this meant that others were left out. Capping the journey to once in a lifetime will ensure fair chance for all,” the source said.
Saudi Arabia had earlier this year increased India’s Haj quota of pilgrims from 1.36 lakh to 1.70 lakh. A total of 1.35 lakh Indian pilgrims undertook the pilgrimage last year.