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Fresh Saudi beggar alert

- Called up, pilgrims say they don’t want to return

Calcutta, Nov. 8: At least 30 people from Murshidabad have been reported missing after reaching Saudi Arabia as Haj pilgrims. When they were called up by consulate officials on phone numbers provided to pilgrims for assistance, they said they did not want to return, sources said.

The disappearance has prompted a senior Indian diplomat in Jeddah to send a letter to the Mamata Banerjee government, saying “beggars from Murshidabad have managed to come here in guise of pilgrims”.

This is the second time in as many years that Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, the Indian consul-general in Jeddah, is writing to the state government on the traceless people, most of whom are suspected to have stayed back to beg in and around Mecca and Madina.

Last year, 166 people — all from Murshidabad — had given the authorities the slip, the disappearance causing embarrassment to the Indian government.

“The issue (disappearance of Indian Haj pilgrims) was raised by the Saudi Haj ministry during the Annual Haj agreement meeting and an assurance from our side was given that we would stop this practice. But it is clear that these beggars from Murshidabad have managed to come here in guise of pilgrims…,” Kidwai has written in his later, dated November 5, to Khalil Ahmed, the municipal commissioner who held the additional charge of Haj this year.

The copy of the letter has also reached Shakir Hussain, the CEO of the Haj Committee of India, and Afroz Begum, a representative of Bengal in the national Haj committee.

During discussions with the state government, the national Haj committee had stressed the need for proper screening of Haj applicants before allowing them to board the flight to Jeddah.

The Indian Haj Mission in Mecca learnt about the disappearances when buses went to fetch pilgrims scheduled to fly back to Calcutta on an Air India flight on November 4.

In a desperate bid to reach out to them — whose disappearance results in a face loss for the consulate office — the officials started calling up the missing people, all of whom were provided with local SIM cards by the Indian authorities.

“Many of them clearly told us that they did not want to return,” an official of the Indian Mission said.

The consul-general has enclosed details of the missing people to the state government with a note to lodge an FIR against the people running the racket and “take the strictest action” to stop the practice.

On November 6, the government lodged FIRs against all the missing people.

Trinamul MP and Haj committee chairman Nurul Islam said the committee had been able to bring down the number of people reported missing. “Last year, it was more than 100. This year, it is only 20.”

The officials of the Haj committee fear the number of missing people could rise as several other batches of pilgrims were yet to return. “This year, close to 12,000 people went for the pilgrimage via the Haj committee under the state government. Only half of them have returned. More such cases of people missing will come up,” an official said.

In January, after The Telegraph wrote about the consul general’s letter to the government, Mamata had blamed the erstwhile Left government.

Officials in the state’s minority department conceded that insiders were providing tacit support to “syndicates”.