Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the government was planning to reopen the sea route for Haj pilgrims, from Mumbai to Jeddah, from next year. Speaking at an orientation camp held to bid farewell to this year’s Haj pilgrims at Mumbai’s Haj House on Saturday, Naqvi added that a dedicated shipping service will also be launched for the purpose.
The Haj pilgrimage has commenced, with the second batch of pilgrims leaving on September 2 this year. “I have had a word with Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari for restarting the sea route to ferry Hajis from the country. He is positive on the same. Another advantage with ships available these days is they are modern and well-equipped to ferry 4,000 to 5,000 people. They can cover 2,300-odd nautical miles one-side distance between the two port cities within just two-three days,” he said.
Naqvi added that the practice of ferrying devotees between Mumbai and Jeddah by waterways was stopped in 1995, on account of the MV Akbari ship growing old. On August 28, a meeting will be held between ministers and officials to take a decision on the Haj policy for 2018. The option is now being weighed in the light of a 2012 Supreme Court order to the government, to abolish by 2022 the subsidy offered to Haj pilgrims who travel by air. Sending pilgrims on ships will help cut down travel expenses by almost half.
“We are also in talks with the Saudi government to decide ways in which the same could be managed. After the work on arrangements of this year’s Haj pilgrimage is completed, we will work upon the future prospects,” he added. Last year, 1.35 lakh devotees from India went to the Haj pilgrimage.
Naqvi added that an additional 35,000 Hajis are expected to visit Mecca this year and the Saudi government has been informed about the specific arrangements for their welcome and accommodation. At present, the pilgrimage is undertaken by air from 21 embarkation points, including Mumbai and Delhi. “We have beefed up security measures at these points. Civil societies in India and Saudi have also been asked to facilitate security arrangements for the pilgrims,” he added.