New Delhi, Jan 8 (PTI) Paving way for the Centre to make available a cheaper mode of transport for Haj pilgrims, Saudi Arabia has given its nod to India’s plan to revive the option of ferrying devotees to Jeddah via sea route, 23 years after the practice was stopped.
Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed the development in a statement after he and Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten signed a bilateral annual agreement regarding the pilgrimage in Mecca yesterday.
Terming his meeting with Benten “very fruitful”, Naqvi said officials from both the countries will discuss the technicalities involved so that the pilgrimage via sea route can be commissioned in the coming years.
“Saudi Arabia has given its nod to revive the option of sending pilgrims by sea route… Officials from both the countries will discuss all the necessary formalities and technicalities so that Haj pilgrimage through sea route can be started in the coming years,” the statement quoted Naqvi as saying.
However, it did not specify the year when the option for pilgrimage via sea route would be opened. As of now, devotees can travel to Saudi Arabia for performing Haj only by air.
The “revolutionary, pro-poor and pilgrim-friendly” decision of sending devotees through sea route will help cut down travel expenses “significantly”, Naqvi said.
The government has been weighing the option of opening the sea route in the light of a 2012 Supreme Court order to abolish by 2022 the subsidy offered to Haj pilgrims who travel by air.
Ministry sources, however, said air services to Jeddah would continue to be available for those who can afford the journey. India has a Haj quota of 1.70 lakh.
It used to take nearly 12-15 days for pilgrims to reach Jeddah in Saudi Arabia from Yellow Gate in Mumbai’s Mazgaon before the sea route was closed in 1995, sources said.
Naqvi said with the availability of modern and well- equipped ships — which can ferry 4,000 to 5,000 persons at a time — the 2,300-odd nautical miles one-side distance between Mumbai and Jeddah can now be covered within just three to four days.
The minister said for the first time, Muslim women from India will go to Haj without ‘Mehram’ (male companion) and separate accommodation and transport have been arranged for them.
“Woman Haj assistants will be deployed for them,” he said, adding more than 1,300 women have applied to go for Haj without ‘Mehram’ and of them will be exempted from lottery system and allowed to proceed for the pilgrimage.
According to the new Haj policy of India, women above 45 years of age, who wish to go for Haj but who don’t have a male companion, are allowed to travel for Haj in groups of four or more.
The Haj Committee of India has received around 3,59,000 applications for Haj 2018. For the first time, we have given choice to Haj pilgrims to opt for another nearest embarkation point, Naqvi said.
This will ensure that there is no financial burden on Haj pilgrims even after removal of Haj subsidy. This decision has received overwhelming response, the statement said. PTI