The Centre is expected to come out with a new Haj Yatra policy this week aiming to ensure a smooth pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, government sources have said. A key feature of the policy, expected to be implemented from the next year, will be to revive the option of sending pilgrims via the sea route to Jeddah, after a hiatus of more than two decades, they said.
The option of ferrying the faithfuls from the coastal city of Mumbai to Jeddah has been considered as the Supreme Court in a 2012 order asked the Centre to abolish by 2022 the airways subsidy offered to Haj pilgrims. The government feels the sea route will help cut down the travel expenses.
The Muslims, however, will continue to have the option of travelling to their holiest site by air from 21 embarkation points in the country, including Delhi and Mumbai, the sources said. Another feature of the policy is to limit the pilgrimage to once-in-a-lifetime affair, they said, adding the government will come out with the policy this week.
“It is in line with the apex court’s order and revives the option of sending pilgrims via ships to Saudi Arabia as it is a cheaper yet comfortable option,” a source said. The practice of ferrying the pilgrims by waterways was discontinued in 1995 on account of MV Akbari, the ship which used to transport them, growing old, the source said. The sources said a modern ship can ferry 4,000 to 5,000 passengers at a time and cover the 2300-odd nautical miles distance between the two cities in two-three days.
Before the sea route was closed, it used to take nearly a week for the pilgrims to reach Jeddah from the Yellow Gate in Mumbai’s Mazgaon, the source added. On the idea of restricting the pilgrimage to once in a lifetime, another source added it is to ensure that all desirous people get a fair chance to undertake the journey.
“The experience so far has been that the rich people would travel more than once to Saudi Arabia. Since, we have a fixed Haj quota, this meant, others would be left out. Capping the journey to once in a lifetime will ensure fair chance for all,” the source said. Saudi Arabia had earlier this year increased India’s Haj quota from 1.36 lakh to 1.70 lakh. A total of 1.35 lakh Indian pilgrims undertook the pilgrimage last year.