| Chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi greets Haj pilgrims at Gaya International Airport on Wednesday. Picture by Suman |
Gaya, Aug. 27: The first set of 128 pilgrims took off from Gaya International Airport for Medina on Wednesday to perform their Haj there.
Air India flight AI 5501 took off around 3.40pm. Earlier in the morning, chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi met the Haj pilgrims individually, offered them rose flowers and urged them to pray for Biharís welfare at Mecca and Medina.
Saying that Gaya was a place of religious importance for Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, he talked about the need for a Haj Bhavan and a spiritual complex with facilities at Gaya.
The chief minister asked district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal to identify a location and plot for construction of such a complex that could cater to the need of devotees of all religions. Manjhi assured all cooperation from the government. He also said efforts are being made in cooperation with civil aviation department for extension of Gaya airport runway so that big aircrafts can be operated from here.
The chief minister was accompanied by food and civil supplies minister Shyam Razak, minority welfare minister Bhim Singh and home secretary Amir Subhani. Magadh division commissioner R.K. Khandelwal and the range deputy inspector general Pradeep Shrivastava were also present.
The pilgrims reached Gaya from Patna by bus or other means of transport in the morning. The Haj committee and district administration accorded them a grand reception. Gaya district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal and senior superintendent of police (SSP) Nishant Kumar Tiwary led the reception team at the airport. The pilgrims were served food and water at the airport.
Razakaar Committee assistant coordinator A.M. Karimi said the 128 pilgrims who flew to Medina included 70 men and 58 women from Gaya, Patna, Nalanda, Vaishali and East Champaran. This year, Bihar is sending 6,667 pilgrims against the quota of 10,000 for Haj. The maximum 589 pilgrims are from Patna, while Gaya is at fourth place with 395 pilgrims.
The flights for Medina or Jeddah would continue till September 23. Till September 1 there will be one flight daily, while two flights would take off daily from September 2 to 23. The flights would take off for Medina till September 12 and for Jeddah from September 13 to 23. Return flights would start from October 10 and continue till November 8, Karimi said.