External affairs minister S.M. Krishna on Monday announced a slew of measures for Haj pilgrims, including allowing a companion for those above 70 years of age, easier passport clearances and automatic inclusion of those applicants in the list who have been applying for three years.
Delivering his inaugural address at the annual Haj conference here, Mr Krishna said, “As part of our efforts to continuously improve Haj management, it has been decided to allocate confirmed seats to all the intending pilgrims over 70 years of age along with a companion, with effect from 2011.”
The minister said the decision taken last year to allow those Haj pilgrims who have applied unsuccessfully for three consecutive years to be automatically given a seat without having to participate in the draw of lots or Qurrah has already been implemented.
An additional Haj quota has also been sought from the Saudi Arabia government to accommodate the significant increase in the number of intending pilgrims.
“During my visit to Jeddah for the conclusion of the Bilateral Haj Agreement with the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on March 26, 2011, I personally handed over the request for additional seats to the Saudi minister for Haj,” Mr Krishna said.
The external affairs ministry has also decided to facilitate issuing of passports to Haj pilgrims.
“I am pleased to inform you that the government has decided to give all the pilgrims selected by the Haj Committee of India passports with validity of eight months without police verification. Regional passport offices have been advised to hold special passport adalats for the purpose,” Mr Krishna said.
Other steps being taken include introduction of an easy baggage system, election of zonal representatives to the Haj Committee of India, increasing embarkation points from 19 to 21, setting up an inter-ministerial committee on charter flights for Haj pilgrims and opening a Helpline by India’s consulate general in Jeddah for pilgrims.
The ministry will also ensure accommodation to more Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia from 2011.
“Over one lakh twenty five thousand (accommodation) units have already been approved for hiring. Process is on for signing of agreement with the landlords,” Mr Krishna said.
A record number of one lakh seventy one thousand six hundred and seventy one pilgrims from India performed Haj 2010.
Haj Committee chairperson Mohsina Kidwai, who was also present at Monday’s programme, demanded that the opinion of members of the body should be taken whenever the amendments to the present Act on Haj Committee is moved. She rued that there were several shortcomings in the present legislation.
Kidwai pointed out that there was no final authority responsible for all Haj arrangements and financial and administrative lacunae were still to be addressed.