Indian Haj operations come to a close, says diplomat

Md. Noor Rahman Sheikh, Indian consul general, addressing a press conference in Jeddah.

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — A top Indian diplomat has said the Indian Haj operations have come to an end as most of the pilgrims have returned to home.

Md. Noor Rahman Sheikh, Indian consul general in Jeddah, said only 18,000 pilgrims out of 176,000 remained in Madinah, who will also leave in the next couple of days.

Addressing a press conference in Jeddah on Sunday, Sheikh said the last Indian pilgrim flight would depart from Madinah Thursday night.

Explaining the effective housing policy in Madinah, he said, Indian Haj mission has incorporated a provision that put punitive measures in the form of compensation in case of violation of contractual obligations in maintaining the distance to pilgrim accommodation.

Based on this, the mission will reimburse of 50 percent of the money to the pilgrims who were allotted accommodation outside the central area of Madinah, he added.

Though many pilgrims were accommodated outside the central area last year, the pilgrims were not compensated because of the lack of such provision, Sheikh said, adding that this was a significant change in terms of housing in Madinah.

Sheikh said the mission's Haj operations in Makkah and Jeddah closed as the last flight from Jeddah left on Sept. 21 and the last batch of pilgrims moved to Madinah on Sept. 26.

He said a total of 210 Indian pilgrims died due to natural causes except two who were killed in traffic accidents.

No Indian pilgrim has overstayed his visa and all have departed on schedule. However, there are 16 people admitted to various hospitals in Madinah.

Sheikh said 1,111,000 pilgrims were accommodated in Makkah's Aziziah area, which is 7 to 8 km away from the Grand Mosque, and the transportation of these pilgrims to the Haram and back was an important element of the Haj operation.

He said more 2,800 new buses were deployed to ferry the pilgrims between Aziziah and the Grand Mosque.

The consul general said over 90,000 downloads of Indian Haj App were recorded by smart phone users.

He said the Indian Haj mission received grievances through social media, in person by visiting officials and through state Haj committees back in India.

Sheikh hailed the effective role played Indian expatriate community through their volunteerism during Haj.

He said a contingent of more than 3,000 community volunteers participated in the service campaign to assist the pilgrims. Indian Haj volunteers were spotted all over the holy sites and Makkah helping pilgrims of all nationalities.

The diplomat said for the first time, the Uttar Pradesh state government this year deputed Qadimul Hajjaj (pilgrim aide) who rendered remarkable services to the pilgrims.

The Haj Committee of India, the ministries of minority welfare and external affairs, besides the Saudi authorities, were observing the Haj operations.

The consul general hailed the efforts of Custodian Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for facilitating the smooth Haj operation as well as their personal involvement in all aspects of Haj to ensure the pilgrims' comfort.

Sheikh said the government of India was likely to announce a new Haj policy in this week, addressing all aspects of the Haj system, including travel subsidy. Sheikh will attend the policy announcement meeting in India.

Answering to a question, Sheikh said the Indian Haj mission from next year would examine the menu of food served to suit the food habits of all pilgrims. He acknowledged that due to the diversity of food habits among people of different states, it was difficult to adopt a common menu.

He said it came to the notice of the Haj mission that some pilgrims had faced transportation problems on the Arafat Day.