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Haj applicants face troubles in embarking on pilgrimage with delays in visa, last minute flight rescheduling

Pilgrimage is monitored by Haj Committee of India (HCI) under supervision of the Union minority affairs ministry

Snehamoy Chakraborty Calcutta Published 26.05.23, 05:27 AM
Representational image

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Hundreds of applicants for the Haj are facing troubles in embarking on the pilgrimage from Calcutta with delays in visa release, flight rescheduling at the last minute and inclusion and exclusion of passengers just before the departure.

A 60-year-old farmer from East Burdwan spent a decade saving Rs 6 lakh for his dream pilgrimage.


After he reached Calcutta to catch a flight to Medina in Saudi Arabia on May 21, he was informed that the trip had been postponed by a few days because his visa did not reach the authorities on time. He is slated to catch a flight on Friday.

“Thursday is about to end and I am yet to get on a flight,” the pilgrim, who did not wish to be named, said on Thursday.

The pilgrimage is monitored by the Haj Committee of India (HCI) under the supervision of the Union minority affairs ministry. There are several state Haj committees that facilitate pilgrims from 25 embarkation centres across the country.

Every year, tens of thousands of Indian Muslims go to the Haj. The number this year is likely to be 1.75 lakh.

During a visit to the Calcutta office of the West Bengal State Haj Committee which functions under the HCI, this newspaper saw hundreds of pilgrims struggling to find relevant counters and gather documents before taking a flight. Besides Bengal, there are pilgrims from Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam — facing problems communicating with officials because of the language barrier.

The state Haj committee — which is facilitating 17,500-odd Haj pilgrims this year — has already contacted the HCI for a solution after receiving hundreds of complaints from individuals and associations.

“Over 100 Haj pilgrims had not received their visas on time even after the HCI had allocated flights for them. The pilgrims who have received text messages on their phones have been queuing up at our office. We are sitting with our fingers crossed as we have nothing to do with the visa if it does not come on time. The subject had to be settled between the ministries of external affairs of Saudi Arabia and India,” said a senior official of the state committee.

An official in Calcutta who has been handling the process of the Haj for the past few years said the mismanagement started with the timing of the announcement.

“Every year, the Haj is announced through advertisement by September. This year, it was announced in February. We are unaware of the reason behind such an inordinate delay. As the process started very late, the entire system stands delayed,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

Around 2,500 pilgrims had left Calcutta for Medina till Thursday afternoon. The rest of the pilgrims will continue boarding their flights to Saudi Arabia till June 10.

The Calcutta Khilafat Committee — a century-old organisation working for the betterment of minorities in the state — has lodged complaints with the central and Bengal governments against the harassment of pilgrims because of mismanagement and negligence. “I have gone for the Haj four times but never witnessed such mismanagement. We have been receiving so many complaints from the pilgrims. Many had not received their visas on time. The dates of flights have also been altered and a process of blame-shifting is on.... Nobody is turning up with a solution,” Nasir Ahmed, the general secretary of the Khilafat Committee, said.

Officials said there was mismanagement by the airline Flyadeal as well. It revises its schedules, with barely four-five hours remaining.

Flyadeal, a Saudi Arabia-based carrier, has been sending two types of planes to Calcutta, which can accommodate 295 or 326 passengers per trip.

“Flyadeal has also been asking us to exclude or include passengers according to the seating capacity at the last minute. It is a horrible task for us as all those who are scheduled to take a flight have been given their boarding passes,” said an official of the state Haj committee.

Haj pilgrims from Bengal also alleged that the amount that they had to deposit in three instalments was Rs 70,000 higher than what pilgrims from other states like Maharashtra or Telangana had paid.

A source said a joint secretary in the ministry had informed that the differences in the amounts were the result of bids that were separately conducted for 25 embarkation centres in the country.

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