ISLAMABAD (APP) The Ministry of Religious Affairs is planning to take over the control of Umra and Ziarat operations aimed at ensuring maximum facilities to intending pilgrims at reasonable packages.
Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi talking to this news agency said that the Saudi authorities had advised the ministry to take operations of Umra and Ziarat under its control so that faithful could be provided maximum facilities.
He said the ministry of law and justice has sent back the draft of Umrah and Ziarat Act to the ministry of religious affairs after necessary vetting, which would be presented in the federal cabinet for approval prior to tabling it in the parliament.
Presently, he said travel agents are operating independently and there is no mechanism of 'check and balance over the packages offered by them for Umra and Ziarat.
Kazmi said the government wanted to regulate their services, keeping in view expenses and profits of travel agencies attracting Zaireens by offering different packages.
The ministry has also started issuing certificates to Hajj Group Organisers (HGOs) to protect the intending pilgrims from fraudulent operating under the guise of travel agents.
The minister has advised the intending pilgrims, who are going to perform Hajj under the private scheme, to beware of fake agents and only contact the registered HGOs having the certificates issued by the ministry.
He said, The pilgrims must verify registration of the HGOs and ask them to show certificates prior to signing any agreement with them.
In first phase, the ministry has distributed 105 certificates among the Rawalpindi and Islamabad-based HGOs, while the same would soon be issued to the organisers operating in other parts of the country.
This year, around 80,000 pilgrims would be sent to Saudi Arabia through 624 HGOs from across the country under the private Hajj scheme.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 09-Aug-2010 here.