By Zar Alam Khan
ISLAMABAD: Despite the inspiring slogan of “A Haji served is one Haj earned”, Pakistani authorities and officials got the ire of the pilgrims during Haj 2008 by failing to ensure required facilities and provide guidance to them despite arbitrarily increasing the Haj charges on fictitious grounds.
The arrangements, including accommodation and transportation, for the Hajis in the holy land are made by Saudi Mualims who receive advance fee from each Haji along with transportation charges. However, neither the Mualims visited the Hajis to listen to their complaints nor provided them sufficient transport vehicles particularly from Makkah to Mina, Arafat and back. After waiting for over 12 hours for the buses, the devotees had to hire taxis on exorbitant rates to reach Mina from Makkah. As the Taxi drivers dropped them at the entry point of the tent city, the Hajis had to spend hours in scorching sun to locate their places of stay in the labyrinth of tents. Many of them spent the first night under the open sky after failing to trace their tents and the next morning had to reach Arafat on foot. Elderly Hajis without company had to suffer the most and many of them remained missing during the five-day rituals. Over 40 to 50 Hajis were crammed into a single tent at Mina making it difficult for them to sleep or even move about and stretch their feet. Instead of providing accommodations to the Hajis close to each others like other countries had done, Pakistani tents at Mina were scattered near Kubra Abdul Aziz and Kubra Faisal etc., while the Haj Mission had reportedly set up its office over four kilometers away, making it difficult for the pilgrims to approach it. Many of the Hajis were also seen screaming in search of their missing relatives particularly outside Jamrats but there was no Pakistani official to help them.
Unlike in the past, the government this time had abolished the white and green category systems for selection of the Hujjaj. The Haj air fares were increased from Rs46,000 last year to Rs85,000 on the plea that petroleum prices were on the rise in the international market. However, when the POL prices started decreasing, the fares were not adjusted, saying an agreement had already been signed with the PIA fixing the Haj fares at Rs85,000 which cannot be reversed.
Besides, the ministry of religious affairs had initially announced that after deduction from the Rs200,000 Haj dues on account of building rents, transport charges and other expenses including the Haj fee to be paid to the Saudi government, each Haji would be given at least 1,300 riyals to meet their day-to-day expenses. However, when the pilgrims reached the Haji camps before their departure they were informed that the amount had been slashed to 750 riyals. Those coming from far-off areas could not arrange extra riyals within the short period and had to face a lot of financial problems. Many of them skipped at least one time’s meal daily during the 40-day stay in the holy land while some were also seen receiving food being distributed among the Indian pilgrims at Mina.
The Pakistani Hajis were angry at the government for its failure to provide basic facilities to them despite increasing the Haj dues from less than Rs130,000 in 2007 to Rs200,000 in 2008. It was learnt that initially the government had decided to fix the Haj charges at Rs150,000 per pilgrim but later an amount of Rs50,000 was added to it without any justification. The Hajis frequently cited the example of
Most of the buildings hired for the Pakistanis were in dilapidated conditions. In one such building at Jarwal (Quba), the Pakistanis spent their 30-day stay protesting against shortage of water and other facilities. Four to seven pilgrims were accommodated in one room in the four-storey building and each one of them was charged 100 riyals per day. The building which housed over 700 pilgrims lacked maintenance with broken and missing fixtures. Besides, there was no arrangement for cleanliness and the house keeping staff always refused to clean the rooms. The pilgrims were often seen gathering in the compound and protesting against shortage of water. However, there were no officials either from the Pakistan House or the building management to answer to their complaints. Staff deployed supposedly to serve the Hajis by the building owner remained busy in running their own small business at the reception by selling tea and eatables to the Hajis. Similar complaints were also received from most of the pilgrims in other areas of Makkah.
Though government’s working right from receiving the Haj application forms to preparation of Haj-related documents was appreciated, the pilgrims were of the view that accountability and coordination among government officials deputed on Haj duty should be ensured to facilitate the pilgrims in performing the religious obligation with peace of mind.