Islamabad - A total of 338,696 people applied for Haj in 2017 and of them, 107,401 performed Haj, Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yousaf told the National Assembly on Thursday.

He said that on an average, 22,241 had applied for Haj under the government Haj scheme in the last three years.

He said in the draft Haj policy for the next year — which is yet to be presented to the federal cabinet for approval — it has been proposed that the applicants who remained unsuccessful continuously for the last three or more years will be selected through a separate balloting and their number will be restricted to 5,000 only. The left-over applicants will be included in the general balloting, he said.

The minister said the Saudi embassy, on the instructions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, activated the system for all visas including those being issued for Haj and Umrah since October 23, 2017.

He said that the company (engaged for) did not have the capacity to deal with such large number of Umrah pilgrims and the Ministry of Religious Affairs approached Saudi embassy through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to withdraw biometric system till sufficient arrangements were made by the nominated company.

Resultantly, he said, Saudi embassy relaxed biometric registration till December 4, 2017, and the pilgrims above 45 years of age were exempted from verification.

The minister said that the Saudi embassy in Islamabad was not collecting any fee, however, the nominated company “Itimad Private Limited” was charging Rs590 per head.

Meanwhile, answering a question, Minister for Water Resources Syed Javed Ali Shah said that the Naulong Dam Project could not be commenced due to funds constraints and high bids as compared to the cost of work in the approved PC-I of the project.