Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Wednesday reviewed the progress of work being done for the 2019 Haj pilgrimage at a meeting of top government and Saudi Arabian officials.

The minister also thanked the Saudi Arabian government and Indian agencies for the successful and smooth completion of subsidy-less 2018 Haj in which he claimed pilgrims had to pay less for their travel expenses than they did in 2017. He said this could be made possible through removal of middlemen and by adopting a 100 per cent online process.

“Haj pilgrims, going through Haj Committee of India. It means, Rs 57 crore less was paid to airlines this year even after ending the Haj subsidy,” Naqvi said at the meeting. He said preparations for next year’s Haj had been started three months in advance.

Naqvi said, “…Safety and better facilities, medical facilities for the pilgrims is the priority of the government and there will be no lackadaisical approach on the matter.”

Other issues related to Haj application process for 2019, transport and medical facilities for pilgrims were also discussed at the meeting.

“Haj 2018 was pro-pilgrims. Elimination of middlemen and 100 per cent online and transparent system ensured that even after removal of Haj subsidy, there was no unnecessary financial burden on pilgrims,” Naqvi pointed out.

The minister said as against the actual Haj air fare from Mumbai of Rs 63,750 in 2014, pilgrims in 2018 had to pay Rs 59,424. From Aurangabad it was Rs 83,450 in 2014 and Rs 81,929 in 2018; from Srinagar it was Rs 1,63,350 in 2014 and Rs 101,358 in 2018.

From Nagpur, it was Rs 81,950 in 2014 and Rs 69,201 in 2018. From Gaya, it was Rs 111,500 in 2014 and Rs 97,473 in 2018, from Hyderabad the air fare in 2014 was Rs 66,600 and in 2018 it was Rs 65,832 the minister said.

Top officials from the ministries of Minority Affairs, External Affairs, Civil Aviation and Health besides representatives from Haj Committee of India, Indian Embassy and Consulate in Saudi Arabia took part in the meeting, according to a Minority Affairs Ministry press note.