LAHORE - If Haj is privatised and the government plays no role expect monitory, the expenditure on performing the religious duty will come down by about Rs 100,000 per person. Similarly, the Haj pilgrims can get better accommodation and food if they agree to stay a couple of kilometers away from the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madina, a man involved in the business says.

Haji Ghulam Muhammad Madni, the Chief Executive of Dawat Hajj-o-Umra told The Nation on Sunday that the private sector was over-charging the Haj and Umra pilgrims to earn more profits from what has now become a profitable business.

Rs 100,000 are sufficient for a person to perform Umra.

At present the government and the private sector share the Haj quota almost on 50:50 basis. However, the government has no role in the Umra business.

The government offers three Haj packages, expenditure whereof depends on distance from the Holy Ka’ba and Masjid-i-Nabvi.

Those staying at a distance of 7-8 km have to pay Rs 295,000 while others who stay a couple of kilometers away and 900 metres away pay Rs 365,000 and Rs 421,000, respectively.

The private sector packages range between Rs 390,000 and Rs 850,000. Those wanting still better facilities have to pay as high as Rs 1.5 million per head.

Mr Ghulam Muhammad says many moneyed Pakistanis spend huge amounts by staying in hotels close to the Holy Mosques. Same standard hotels in Azizia, a couple of kilometers away, are much cheaper, and guests staying there can reach The Grand Mosque in a few minutes by transport which is part of the package. 

According to Mr Ghulam Muhammad, air tickets for Haj and Umra will cost much less if the government reduces the fares of PIA.  Such an initiative will force other airlines to follow suit, as a result of which the Haj and Umra pilgrims will get tremendous financial relief.

The government, he said, should also take up the issue of visa fee with the Saudi authorities. 

On paper, visa is “free” but in practice up to Rs 60,000 are charged for the same during the month of Ramadan.  If a fee is fixed, agents will not be able to overcharge the Umra pilgrims.

Another step which can bring down the Haj expenses is government’s role in arranging “Maktabs” at Mina, where the pilgrims stay for about five days. The government should purchase the Maktabs and then sell the same to the private sector.  Agreements for longer periods will make the stay here more economical, said Mr Ghulam Muhammad.

About 180,000 Pakistanis perform Haj every year.  The number of Umra pilgrims runs into hundreds of thousands.