ISLAMABAD - The Government Haj Scheme expenditures have become costlier by Rs156,975 owing to various reasons including increase in transport and devaluation of rupee, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Secretary Mushtaq Ahmed said on Friday.

Briefing Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, chaired by Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, he said that this year Government Haj Scheme’s proposed package would be Rs 436,975 for Northern and Rs 426,975 for Southern regions of the country.

A Haji would have to pay additional Rs 19,451 for Qurbani.

He said that the proposed Haj package has been sent to Federal Cabinet for approval which has the authority to reduce the Haj package.

He said that air fares will be Rs 100,000 for North and Rs 110,000 for South as comparing to last year’s Rs 93,000 and 84,000 for Northern and Southern regions respectively.

The committee directed the ministry to negotiate with airlines to reduce airfare.

The ministry was also directed to explore possibilities of transporting Hujjaj to Saudi Arabia through normal commercial flights to reduce cost as chartered flights were comparatively expensive.

He said that 184,210 Pakistanis would perform Haj this year including the additional quota of 5,000 granted by Saudi Arabian government.

The additional quota and withdrawn quota of black listed HGOs would be distributed among new enlisted Haj Group Organisers (HGOs).

The overall quota of 800 enlisted HGOs would be 40 percent of total Haj quota allocated to Pakistan.

Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri directed the Ministry to bound HGOs to keep their packages at lowest minimum level as some HGOs were offering packages up to Rs 600,000 to Rs 1.6 million per private Haji.

Secretary assured the Committee to himself monitoring private Hajj packages.

Yousaf Badini asked the Ministry to deploy one staffer with each HGOs for strict monitoring.

Secretary said that in new Haj Policy the hardship quota was being reduced from 2 per cent to 1.5 per cent. An additional quota of 10,000 was being reserved to accommodate Haj aspirants, who failed to secure a berth in last three consecutive attempts.

Another 10,000 quota was being reserved to accommodate octogenarian Haj aspirants without any balloting.

Likewise, another quota of 500 would be reserved by labourers or low paid employees of companies registered with Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI).

The Secretary said that various new initiatives have been introduced in the proposed new Haj Policy including road to Makkah project, E-Visa, Uniform Baggage access of Pakistan, temporary Haji camp at Gilgit to facilitate local Hujjaj. Eitemad would conduct bio-metric of intending pilgrims at Gwadar, Skardu, Muzaffarabad.

The Committee directed to include in the list Khuzdar and Chitral to facilitate Hujjaj.

He said that the Ministry has proposed to Saudi Arabian authorities to authorise four or five more companies to conduct bio metric verifications of Hujjaj.

Currently Eitemad has monopoly over bio metric verification.

Muhammad Yousaf Badini asked the Ministry to give equal share of Haj to Balochistan.

The Committee directed the Ministry to waive off Rs 2000 additional imposed on multiple Umrah performers.

The Secretary said that the Ministry has finalised a draft Haj, Umrah Services Management Bill, 2019 to regulate Umrah operations.