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Irregularities by HAAB

10,000 pilgrims may miss Hajj

HC orders resolving crisis

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Sanwar Hossain :
Uncertainty looms over performing Hajj by some 10,000 pilgrims this year because of severe mismanagement of the Hajj agencies, their carelessness and profit boosting tendency, Hajj aspirants have alleged.
With just two weeks to the annual Muslim pilgrimage of the Hajj, only 58361out of 1, 27,198 eligible Bangladeshi pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia until Saturday, the Bangladesh Hajj office in Makkah said.
The Hajj will fall on August 30, depending on moon sighting. Saudi authorities will issue visa for pilgrims until August 17 and the last Hajj flight from Dhaka is scheduled to leave on August 26. 
Meanwhile, Biman may face serious shortage of carriers and additional slots, as agencies failed to provide passengers scheduled flights.
"Though agencies are assuring the Hajj aspirants of providing last minute visas but scheduled flights cancellation led to a loss of about Tk 40 crore revenue due to lack of passengers," said Sakil Meraj General Manager of Public Relations, Biman Bangladesh.
"Last minute pressure of passengers may cause carrier shortage though we are adjusting pilgrims' flights with the regular flights along with additional slots arrangements," Meraj added.
It is alleged that like 2015 and 2016, the agencies have failed to deliver proper and smooth services to the pilgrims. Lack of adequate monitoring by the Religious Affairs Ministry, illegal syndication among ministry employee, Hajj agencies and Biman insiders, who are taking brisk business opportunity, has created such complexities and uncertainty over the flights of pilgrims.   
Profit-merger Hajj agencies made delay to rent houses at Makkah and Madina at cheap cost and failed to submit papers for visa clearance on due time, which caused such flights cancellation.
Till date, 25 hajj flights of the national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh have been cancelled due to shortage of pilgrims. For adjustment, Biman bought 14 additional Hajj slots from the Saudi authority  of which 2 slots have been lost due to cancellation of flights due to passenger shortage on Saturday and Sunday.
Other reasons for not issuing visas for the pilgrims on time were increased Muallem fees, electronic visa processing system by the Saudi embassy in Dhaka which required documents of pilgrims like national identity card and police clearance and sudden imposition of additional 2000 Saudi Riyal by the embassy equivalent to TK 44000 on the repeat pilgrims who performed Hajj in 2015and 2016.       
Till Sunday, as 90 Hajj tour operators failed to book flight tickets, arrange accommodation in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrims, as many as 13,415 pilgrims despite having visas could not fly to perform Hajj, according to the Hajj office at Askona in the capital.
According the Hajj office source, some 127,198 pilgrims have registered for performing Hajj from Bangladesh this year under government and private managements. A total of 1, 07,198 pilgrims have so far received visa and 60,510 pilgrims have already been carried to Saudi Arabia for performing Hajj. Biman has carried 28,179 pilgrims and Saudi Arabia Airlines 32, 331 pilgrims to Hajj destination.
Of them, 4,200 pilgrims will perform Hajj under the government management and 1, 22,998 pilgrims will perform Hajj under private management.
Some 66,000 pilgrims are yet to receive visa though the deadline of visa assurance by the embassy is August 17.
Joint Secretary (Hajj) of Ministry of Religious Affairs Md Hafiz Uddin told the New Nation that the pilgrims who have registered will not be left behind.
"We are keen to solve any complexity on Hajj issue and working on it. The Ministry has taken initiatives so that pilgrims receive visa on time and can fly to perform holy Hajj," Hafiz Uddin said.
"Strict actions including fine, cancellation of license will be taken against the agencies failing to send pilgrims," he added.
"Nobody will be left behind who have registered. Agencies are lobbying for visa in the embassy and receiving also, so we hope till August 26 all the pilgrims will be carried to the Hajj destination, the Ministry's Joint Secretary affirmed.
When contracted, General Secretary of the Hajj Associations of Bangladesh (HAAB) Shahdat Taslim told the New Nation that they are going to place a 4 point demand to the Biman Bangladesh and the Ministry of Religious Affairs for adjustment with additional steps for carrying pilgrims properly to Hajj destination.
According to Taslim, HAAB will request Biman to arrange additional 14 slots with the 11 slots that Biman has already arranged.
They will also request Biman to cancel other route flights and accommodate Hajj pilgrims in those flights.
Besides, the HAAB will request the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) to persuade the Saudi Airlines to carry more pilgrims.
Meanwhile, questions have arisen over the misuse of Tk 10 crore tax prayer's money by allocating to different members of parliament, powerful government employees and ministers' close people to perform Hajj free of cost.
Of 4200 Hajj pilgrims under government management, 318 pilgrims are going to Saudi Arabia at the cost of the state, according to a press statement issued and signed by the Deputy Secretary (Hajj) Md Sarafat Zaman of the Ministry of Religious Affairs on August 6.
It shows that among 318 pilgrims, 81 were from the election area of the minister Professor Motiur Rahman. Besides, 4 members of parliament, 50 staffers of Bangabhaban, Prime Minister Office and Sudhasadan are on the list of the priveleged.
Though the state fund was reserved for different classes, occupational and devotional worshipers to perform Hajj, it is alleged that very few of them get such chance. Rather influential lobbyists from different government offices get chances of performing Hajj at state cost, which is tax payers' money.
There are allegations that an inter ministry syndication is doing brisk business by taking lump-sum donation and thus allocate to influential people to go for Hajj at state cost and thus misusage the state fund set aside for devotional worshipers of the country.    
The HC has ordered to take steps within 48 hours for sending Hajj pilgrims who still could not fly for flight disruption.
Justice Syed Md Dastagir Hossain and Justice Md Ataur Rahman Khan came up with the order and rule following a writ petition filed on Sunday.
A writ petition was filed with the High Court (HC) on Sunday morning seeking its order to form a probe body to find out the reasons behind the mismanagement of hajj flights operated by Bangladesh Biman.
High Court lawyer advocate Munjil Morshed filed the public interest litigation writ petition making five government officials, including the secretaries of Religious Affairs Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry and Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry, defendants.
The writ also sought a court directive to solve the visa crisis within 48 hours through communicating with the Saudi Arabia embassy in Dhaka.

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