PESHAWAR: The expenses for next year’s Hajj through government scheme are likely to increase by Rs63,000, a parliamentary committee was told on Wednesday.

The meeting of the sub-committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony was chaired by Hafiz Abdul Karim at the Parliament House to review redressal of problems of pilgrims during the Hajj 2019 and arrangements for Hajj 2020.

Secretary Religious Affairs Muhammad Mushtaq Ahmed and Additional Secretary Dawood told that the Senate committee that tentative Hajj package for next year would be Rs489,575 as compared to Rs436,975 for the year. It means that an increase of Rs63,000 will be witnessed in Hajj expenses through the government scheme.

The officials told the parliamentary body that 264 complaints of pilgrims going missing, 981 complaints about lost luggage, 174 regarding food, 244 about accommodation issues in Makkah and Madina, and 18 Mashaa’ir issues were received after Hajj 2019. All these issues were addressed in time. The officials said the issues of food and accommodation are continuously discussed with the Saudi officials and they were confident that the service will further improve during Hajj 2020. The officials further said some companies which failed to provide promised facilities have also been blacklisted. They said some pilgrims paid for better accommodation, but they were given accommodation at other places. They said such pilgrims have been compensated. So far, Rs5.53 billon, on average Rs37,227 per pilgrim, have been refunded. Five Hajj group organisers have been blacklisted for violating agreements with clients.

The Religious Affairs Ministry officials said a Pak-Saudi Joint Rapid Response Committee has been set up to resolve the issues being confronted by Pakistani pilgrims during Hajj. The officials said Road to Makkah project as highly beneficial for Pakistani pilgrims. They said the Saudi officials will be requested to expand the project from Islamabad Airport to Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and Quetta.

The Senate committee directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs to hold talks with the Saudi officials for reducing the rent of tents for stay of pilgrims. The committee members said maximum facilities must be provided to pilgrims at minimum possible rates.