By Hassan Cheruppa
JEDDAH — There will be major qualitative changes in the operation of the Indian Haj mission next Haj, according to Consul General Mohammad Noor Rahman Sheikh.
Speaking to Saudi Gazette, he said the distance of accommodation of green category pilgrims from the Grand Mosque in Makkah has been reduced from 1,500 meters to 1,000 meters while all pilgrims in Madinah will be housed in the central area close to the Prophet›s Mosque. And new contracts will be signed to upgrade the transportation of pilgrims between Makkah and Madinah by replacing old buses.
Sheikh said these decisions were taken during a recent meeting with the officials of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, which is in charge of Haj affairs, in New Delhi. The bilateral Haj agreement between India and Saudi Arabia will be signed on Jan. 11.
Sheikh said the Haj mission on Sunday published advertisement in local media outlets inviting applications from landlords for renting buildings within one kilometer from the periphery of the Grand Mosque. The ad states that there is no need for kitchen facility because cooking will not be allowed in green category buildings in the central area of Makkah.
Sheikh said the authorities started enforcing the cooking ban since the Haj 2016. The Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah and the Civil Defense Department have given strict instructions in this regard, he added.
The Saudi authorities have asked property owners to remove all arrangements for cooking in buildings in the central area of Makkah and warned violators of fines and shutdowns.
Sheikh said all intending pilgrims will be informed that there will not be any cooking facilities in green category building. He disclosed that the Haj mission has no plans to introduce catering services in Makkah or Madinah.
“It was a tough and unsuccessful experiment when we tried to serve food to pilgrims in their accommodations in Madinah for eight days. It involves a lot of money and logistics, apart from problems in catering to the tastes of pilgrims from different regions and states,” Sheikh said while noting that India is a very vast country with diverse food habits, unlike many Asian, Arab and Middle Eastern countries that have similar or uniform food habits.
“We tell the pilgrims clearly that the Haj mission cannot take the responsibility of food and hence they can come prepared,» Sheikh said.
He sad 70 percent of pilgrims were given accommodation in the central area of Madinah last Haj. The Indian authorities have given permission to find accommodation for all pilgrims in the central area starting next Haj.
According to Sheikh, transportation between Makkah and Madinah has been a headache for the Haj mission. “Some of the buses are old models and this created many problems. We have requested the Saudi Ministry of Haj and the Car Syndicate to replace them with new ones,” he said, adding that the Indian authorities have given the go ahead to sign additional agreements in this regard.