dailypheamISLAMABAD: The government on Friday slashed by 10 per cent the quota of private tour operators for Hajj as it announced its Hajj policy for 2016.

According to the policy, the government will start accepting Hajj applications from April 4, while the final balloting will be held on April 17. The pilgrimage is expected to start in September.

The Secretary of Religious Affairs Ministry Suhail Aamir shared the new policy’s draft with the Senate’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs on Friday. The policy says as many as 143,368 pilgrims will perform Hajj this year.

The policy also outlined a larger share for the government-operated Hajj scheme this year which has been increased to 60 per cent. Consequently, the share of private tour operators was cut to just 40 per cent. Previously, the government has operated at a 50-50 share with private tour operators.

The move apparently is part of the government’s reaction to complaints against private tour operators. Joint secretary at the religious affairs ministry Ilyas Khan told the panel that the government had blacklisted as many as five private tour companies based on pilgrims’ complaints.

He added that the government will strictly monitor private tour operators this year.

The government has also outlined a nominal cut in prices, down by Rs120 from Rs264, 971 charged per pilgrim last year to Rs264,851 this year.

The policy, the final draft of which will be sent to the cabinet for approval next week, further outlines flights using three local and one international carrier including Pakistan International Airlines, Shaheen Air, Airblue and Saudi Arabian Airlines. Flights will be operated from Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, Multan, Rahim Yar Khan and Sukkur

During the meeting, lawmakers expressed concerns over the delayed announcement of the policy.

“April has started and the ministry has yet to send the final draft to the prime minister for final approval,” remarked committee chairman Senator Hafiz Hamdullah.

Minister of Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf claimed that last year the policy was finalised within a month. He went on to claim that ten days were enough to finalise the process. He, however, failed to satisfy the panel.

Lessons learnt?

Aamir told the committee that the ministry will this year establish an emergency management system in order to avoid another stampede like the one which took place in Mina last year in which over 2,000 pilgrims — including 83 from Pakistan – were killed. The secretary said that a seven- member committee has been constituted for the purpose which will be headed by DG Hajj.

Around 450 welfare medical staff including units from police, Pakistan Army and other ministries would be deputed with the pilgrims.