ISLAMABAD - Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf on Tuesday termed the protest of private Haj tour operators unreasonable, clarifying that all successful intending pilgrims, who have deposited dues, will perform religious obligation.

Whereas, he added, the quota of Haj Organiser Association of Pakistan (HOAP) was slashed as they failed in booking the required number of pilgrims. Addressing a press conference, the minister announced that due to 20 per cent cut in Haj quota by Saudi government, 143,368 Pakistanis would perform Haj this year instead of 179,210.

A large number of private tour operators led by Chairman HOAP Waheed Iqbal, holding placards kept raising the slogans in the premises of PID against religious minister and secretary minister of religious affairs for allegedly slashing their quota. They intercepted the minister and gathered around his vehicle when he (minister) after the press conference was departing from Press Information Department (PID).

Yousaf along with secretary ministry of religious affairs also held a brief talk with the representatives of HOAP and summoned them on Wednesday to settle the matter. Demanding equitable cut in Haj quota both in private and Government Haj scheme, they argued with the minister that government's decision would cost Rs 15 billion loss to them.

The minister amid severe rumpus left the place from other gate of PID and representatives of HOAP kept raising the slogans.

Earlier, Yousaf informed the newsmen that religious ministry had already completed the entire booking process of government scheme intending pilgrims while the HGOs have failed to book the required number as per their allocated quota. He added that the government has decided to cut the quota of HGOs as this will not cause losses to them. He explained that the Haj Group organisers (HGOs) had been asked to submit details of their bookings by June 10 so that a policy of cutting the ratio of government and private scheme could be finalised.

"This date was even extended but till June 18 Haj Group Organisation (HGOs) had booked only 21,000 intending pilgrims. Till today HGOs booked 43,749 intending pilgrims," he said, adding that tour operators had booked 43,000 pilgrims while they had been given the quota up to 57,000. 

To a question about private tour operators, he said ministry has asked the Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) to cooperate with them on this matter, as they will not get any loss.

To another question, he said that the government will have to bear loss of Rs 120 million if 50 per cent quota cut is applied on equitable basis. He further said that this decision has been taken to avoid inconvenience to the pilgrims who have already paid the Haj dues.