ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Thursday directed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to make better arrangements for the 2017 Haj at minimum possible cost.

The PM was given detailed briefing regarding arrangements for Haj 2017 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony here at the PM’s House.

The annual Haj agreement for the year 2017 has been signed with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the reduction in Hajj quota in 2013 - due to expansion of Haram Sharif (the Holy Mosque) - has been restored from 143,368 to 179,210.

Process of hiring of accommodation, transport, catering and other allied facilities has been initiated. The Saudi Haj ministry has also been requested to enhance the country’s quota by at least 15,000 on the basis of current population of Pakistan’, the Prime Minister was told.

An official statement said the Prime Minister directed the ministry to improve the arrangements for Hajj 2017.

Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yusaf said that in line with the vision of the Prime Minister, there was remarkable improvement in arrangements of Haj during the last three years. “The applications for Government Haj Scheme increased from 86,919 in 2013 to 280,617 in 2016,” said the minister.

He added that the more than 300 per cent increase in applications in three years is a testament of public confidence and trust in government and its handling of Hajis (pilgrims).

While the Prime Minister appreciated the Ministry and its team led by the minister for their commendable work and efforts to facilitate Hajis, he observed that there is always a room for further improvement and that the ministry should strive to make Haj arrangements more comfortable, better and cost-effective, the statement said.

“The visible improvement in facilities provided to Hujjaj in past three years has been acknowledged by all segments of society,” added the Prime Minister.

The PM directed that special attention must be given to making arrangements at the airports, provision of three daily meals in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalfa, and general facilitation for Hajis in lodging and travelling.

The government, he said, will provide all the possible support to the Ministry for facilitating the guests of Allah in performing Haj comfortably and securely. “The ministry of religious affairs must discharge its responsibilities with full devotion not only as an official duty but also a religious obligation of the highest order,” emphasized the PM.

It was also approved during the meeting that applicants who have performed Haj during the last seven years will not be eligible to apply for Hajj 2017 under the Government Scheme while Haj-e-Badal (act of performing Haj on behalf of another person) will be allowed only through Private Haj scheme.

The meeting was also attended by Secretary to PM Fawad Hassan Fawad, Secretary Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Khalid Masood Chaudhary and other senior officials.