The number of pilgrims who will go on Haj this year will be a record 175,025 despite the discontinuation of Haj subsidy, Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) said. According to the ministry, this will be the first time since Independence that this large number of pilgrims will travel to Mecca for Haj.

“For the first time after Independence, a record 175,025 pilgrims from India will go to Haj in 2018. This year, a total of 355,604 applications had been received, which included those of 189,217 male and 166,387 female applicants,” a ministry report has said.

In previous years, the numbers were as follows: 124,852 (2017); 99,902 (2016); 99,868 (2015); 99,914 (2014); 121,338 (2013); 125,064 (2012); 124,901 (2011); and 126,018 (2010).

The report also said that because of digitisation and better management ensured by the ministry, pilgrims have saved Rs 57 crore of their own money in airfare. “In 2017, a total of Rs 1,030 crore was paid to the airlines for airfare for 124,852 Haj pilgrims, whereas in 2018, a total of Rs 973 crore will be paid to airlines for 128,002 Haj pilgrims. This means that Rs 57 crore less will be paid to airlines this year even after ending the Haj subsidy,” the MMA report said.

“This year, a total of 128,002 pilgrims will go through the Haj Committee of India (HCI), including about 47% females. The rest of the 47,023 Haj pilgrims will go through Private Tour Operators,” the MMA report said.

According to the MMA, a total of 6,700 pilgrims will go 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, 450 from Goa, 2,950 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.

This year, for the first time, the choice of embarkation points has been given to Haj pilgrims. There are a total of 21 Haj embarkation points (EPs) in the country—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Cochin, Indore, Srinagar, Bhopal, Guwahati, Mangaluru, Aurangabad, Varanasi, Jaipur, Nagpur, Ranchi, Gaya, Ahmedabad and Goa.

Earlier this year, the Centre had announced abolishing the Haj subsidy and using the funds thus saved for providing education to minority communities. Haj subsidy referred to discounted airfares given to Mecca-bound pilgrims flying by government-owned Air India. It also included assistance for domestic travel within India to reach special airport terminals meant for Haj departure.

Commenting on the success of getting more number of pilgrims for Haj, Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, our government has succeeded in getting India’s Haj quota increased for the second consecutive year. Also, the BJP government’s commitment to making the entire Haj process transparent has changed the way Haj arrangements used to be. Introduction of an online process has helped to make the entire Haj process transparent and pro-pilgrims.”

The Haj Committee of India is a statutory body of the Central government, which organises pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. It was established under the Haj Committee Act, 2002.

“Besides, the increase of total number of pilgrims, for the first time, Muslim women from India will also go to Haj without ‘Mehram’ (male companion). A total of 1,308 women have applied to go for Haj without ‘Mehram’ and all of these women have been selected through the lottery system and allowed to proceed to Haj,” the ministry report said.

The Centre is in talks with Saudi Arabia for making sea routes operational for Haj pilgrims. The ministry has said that Saudi Arabia has given the green signal for India’s decision of reviving the option of sending Haj pilgrims through the sea route. Currently, officials from both countries are discussing the necessary formalities and technicalities in this direction.

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