ISLAMABAD, Feb 21: Minister for Religious Affairs Khurshid Shah announced on Thursday an increase in Haj fares and said intending Haj pilgrims in 2013 would also be required to pay an additional 450 riyals for sacrificial animals.
He said the additional payment would spare the pilgrims of hassle of finding sacrificial animals.
About air fares, the minister said pilgrims from northern region (Punjab and KPK) would pay Rs97,500 and those from southern region (Sindh) Rs87,500.
“The higher exchange rate – the rupee-dollar parity -- is the main reason for increased fares this year,” he said.
Mr Shah, who was addressing a press conference along with Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, said the number of pilgrims would be the same as last year and the policy of first come first served would be followed.
“I tried but could not convince my Saudi counterpart to increase in the number of Pakistani pilgrims this year,” the minister said, adding: “We requested them for 200,000 pilgrims this year but they did not give approval even for extra 20,000.”
He said the Saudis wanted to decrease the number of Haj pilgrims this year but the proposal was resisted by the government.
“It is because of renovation of Harrm Sharif and the Saudi government is likely to impose a ban on its citizens from performing Haj this year,” the minister said.
He also announced that pilgrims had been divided into white, green and blue categories and under arrangements with the Saudi government, half the pilgrims would travel by Pakistani airlines and the other half by Saudi airlines.
Regarding arrangements for pilgrims, the minister said that larger buildings would now be hired for pilgrims away from the ‘Harrm Sharif’ at cheaper rates, adding that better transport arrangements would be made for pilgrims’ convenience.
“In 2010, 362 buildings were hired, 235 were hired in 2011 and only 150 in 2012 and it is due to better management,” Mr Shah said, adding that a special fund had been allocated this year under a `hardship scheme’ for pilgrims getting injured or dying during Haj.
Mr Kaira said the interim government would have no say in policy-making and it would only be responsible for implementing the previous government’s policy.