ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet on Wednesday approved the Haj Policy 2017 under which new applicants will be preferred for pilgrimage this year.

The cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also lifted moratorium on new gas connections and execution of development schemes.

Addressing a news conference after the meeting – along with Minister of State for Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Tariq Fazal Chaudhary, —- State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the cabinet had decided to rework the Haj expenses, which would be presented before the next meeting.

She said that a proposal to increase the cost of the Haj packages had been rejected by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Aurangzeb said that the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had been directed to reduce fares this year to facilitate the pilgrims.

She said that new barcodes would be introduced to counter the fake medicine issue.

“The standard of medicine will definitely improve with the step,” she added.

Under the Haj Package 2017, the Saudi Haj Ministry has been requested to enhance Pakistan’s quota by at least 15,000.

The quota for the Pakistan government scheme has also been increased to 179,210.

Aurangzeb said that the cabinet lifted the moratorium on new gas connections, following a green signal from the Cabinet Committee on Energy.

The cabinet also approved the execution of gas development schemes, initiated during the present government.

She said that the cabinet also approved a policy about daily wagers and contractual employees.

The minister said that the previous government inducted thousands of employees in different departments without any test or interviews.

Under the new policy, she said, the contractual employees working in grade one to 15 would be given relaxation in age during the regular hiring process.

Similarly, they will be given extra marks based on the years they have served in the government departments during interviews, Aurangzeb added.

She said that those working against grade 16 and 17 would only be inducted through the Federal Public Service Commission.

About housing policy, Aurangzeb said that those residing in slums or those possessing no residence would be given preference in low-cost housing schemes.

She said that the cabinet also approved outsourcing the management and maintenance of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi airports.

Aurangzeb said that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) would play the role of oversight.

She said that permission for new housing schemes had also been issued.

Aurangzeb added there had been no electricity load-shedding for industry in the last two and half years.

“Supply of both LNG [liquefied natural gas] and RLNG [re-gasified natural gas] is part of the latest policy,” she said.

Addressing the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed that maximum facilities be provided to the pilgrims.

He also appreciated the efforts of the Ministry of Religious Affairs for making good arrangements for the pilgrims last year.

Sharif, however, directed to again work out the Haj expenses and present revised rates in the next cabinet meeting.

The prime minister, while discussing problems related to the housing sector, said in view of growing urbanisation, the government would facilitate the low-income groups in the housing sector.

He said that urbanisation was increasing at a rapid pace due to development activities and there was a need to cater to the demand in the housing sector.

Minister for Planning, Reform and Development Ahsan Iqbal gave a detailed presentation on the subject and showed various housing models for low and middle-income population groups.

Iqbal also apprised the prime minister about the issues related to the housing sector including governance and finance, connectivity and planning, land and housing, resilience to natural disasters and effects of climate change.

An official statement said that it was agreed to constitute a cabinet sub-committee comprising minister housing (as chair), minister planning, minister railways, minister SAFRON, secretary to the prime minister, secretary finance, representatives of the State Bank and the National Bank to work out a detailed plan for housing within 10 days and present it in the next cabinet meeting.

The cabinet meeting also approved a number of agenda items, enhancing cooperation and agreements between Pakistan and other countries in the field of aviation, defence, interior, health, law and others.

The cabinet also confirmed/approved decisions taken by the Economic Co-ordination Committee of the cabinet in its different meetings, said an official statement.

The items approved in the meetings included: agenda for technical cooperation between Pakistan Meteorological Department and Sultan Qaboos University.

The cabinet approved, in principle, to negotiate the draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Kenya and the Government of Pakistan.

Signing of statement of intent in the field of research cooperation between the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Switzerland and the National Defence University (NDU), Pakistan was also approved.

The cabinet approved, in principle, to start negotiations on draft MoU between the Ministry of Defence, Government of Czech Republic and Ministry of Defence Production, Government of Pakistan, concerning cooperation in the fields of defence industry and logistics.

The cabinet also approved in principle to start negotiations on Visa Abolition Agreement between Pakistan and Cuba for diplomatic, official and service passport holders.

Initiation of negotiations on a draft MoU between the Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control of Pakistan and Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Norway on cooperation in combating crime, were also approved.

Signing of negotiated draft Visa Abolition Agreement between Government of Pakistan and Jordan for the holders of diplomatic and official passport was approved.

Signing of agreement between Pakistan and Bulgaria on abolition of visa for diplomatic and service/official passport holders was also approved.

MoU for strengthening cooperation in the area of anti-corruption between the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and China’s counterpart got the nod.

The meeting approved to start negotiations and sharing of the counter draft MoU on agricultural cooperation with the Kingdom of Thailand.

Initiating negotiations on the memorandum of cooperation for the development of mechanism to combat drug-related crime between the Royal Canadian mounted police and the anti-narcotics force were also approved.

Similarly, ratification of the cabinet for signing of MoU between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on cooperation in the field of health and medicine also got the cabinet’s nod.

Signing of MoU between Iran and Pakistan for cooperation in the field of health services, medical education, research, drug and medical technology also got approval.

The cabinet also confirmed/approved decisions taken by the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet in its meeting held on February 13th.

The cabinet meeting further approved ratification of the decisions taken by the ECC of the cabinet in its meetings held on February 22, March 28.

It also included ratification of the cabinet to the Recommendation of the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative cases, held on March 22 and April 10.