The government has floated global tender seeking applications from shipping firms as part of its efforts to revive an option of sending pilgrims for Haj by sea, Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia had earlier given its nod to India’s plan to revive the option of sea travel to Jeddah, over two decades after the practice was stopped.
“We have issued a global tender. We have asked for applications from shipping companies,” Naqvi told reporters here.
The secretary and joint secretary from the ministry will soon hold talks in Saudi Arabia with officials from its shipping ministry and others on issues related to the travel of Haj pilgrims by sea, he said.
Asked when the sea route would become operational for Haj pilgrims, he said, “We are trying and our goal is for 2019. It will only be from Mumbai.”
Earlier this year, Naqvi had confirmed that Saudi Arabia had given its nod to India’s plan to revive the option of ferrying devotees by sea after he and Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten signed a bilateral annual agreement regarding the pilgrimage in Mecca.
He said today the journey via the sea route would take three or four days.
Naqvi said for the first time after Independence, a record number of Muslims from India would go to Haj this year without any subsidy.
The government has “succeeded in getting India’s Haj quota increased for the second consecutive year and now, for the first time after Independence, a record 1,75,025 pilgrims from India will go to Haj 2018”, Naqvi said.
This year, a total of 1,28,702 pilgrims, about 47 per cent of them women, will travel through the Haj Committee of India. The rest will go through private tour operators, he said.
A total of 1,308 Indian women will, for the first time, perform Haj without the company of a ‘mahram’ or male guardian, Naqvi said.
Among the pilgrms are 6,700 who will fly from Ahmedabad, 350 from Aurangabad, 5,550 from Bengaluru, 254 from Bhopal, 11,700 from Cochin, 4,000 from Chennai, 19,000 from Delhi, 5,140 from Gaya and 450 from Goa.
He said 2950 will leave from Guwahati, 7,600 from Hyderabad, 5,500 from Jaipur, 11,610 from Kolkata, 14,500 from Lucknow, 430 from Mangalore, 14,200 from Mumbai, 2,800 from Nagpur, 2,100 from Ranchi, 8,950 from Srinagar and 3,250 from Varanasi.
Naqvi said for the first time, women Haj assistants would be deployed to help Indian women pilgrims and monitor facilities provided to them.
In 2017, a total of Rs 1,030 crore was paid to airlines as airfare for 1,24,852 Haj pilgrims. In 2018, Rs 973 crore will be paid to the airlines for the 1,28,702 Haj pilgrims going through the Haj Committee of India, he said.
“It means, apart from ending the Haj subsidy, we have saved Rs 57 crore on airfare,” he said.
For the welfare of Haj pilgrims, two 40-bed hospitals in Mecca, one hospital of 15 beds in Medina, 10 branch dispensaries in Mecca, three dispensaries in Medina and one dispensary in the Jeddah Haj Terminal have been set up, he said.
The Haj process has been made completely digital which has helped in making it “transparent and pro-pilgrim”, the minister said.