Almost a million Muslims from world over converge to the holy cities of Mecca and Madina for the annual pilgrimage of Hajj. Muslims arrive in Mecca to perform Hajj overlooking social status, race and nationality. The preparations for Hajj take almost a year. With the growing Muslim population, the number of people desiring to perform Hajj is dramatically increasing.

Indigenous preparations of Hajj begin by submitting an application with The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) or private Hajj group known as Hajj Group Organization (HGO). Each country is given a quota to allow the applicants a fair chance to perform Hajj. Unlike HGOs, MORA ensures people who haven’t got the chance before are given top priority. The system run by MORA includes an enormous amount of paper work. It includes a great deal of time from application forms to keeping track with the banks, and finally gathering Hujjaj at Haji camps and ensuring that every Haji reaches his residence safely.

Looking at the problems faced by Hujjaj, PITB developed Hajj Management System for MORA in 2014, an online system where HGOs not only register online with MORA but also showcase their Haj packages. “The system is a two-step process in which Hajj Group Organizers fill an online form registering themselves with MORA as Hajj facilitators. This is followed by another form where HGOs mention their Hajj packages and the number of registered Hujjaj against each package. With the help of the data provided, PITB’s system generates a summary illustrating the details of the Hujjaj along with their packages,” said Saima Sheikh, PITB Director Training and Development.

Going ahead this year, PITB developed an Android mobile application that proved very helpful during the crisis since it allowed people to inform the authorities about mishaps and accidents. The Mina stampede is the deadliest tragedy to strike since 1990, in which 717 pilgrims died and 863 were injured. Prior to this, the crane crash killed scores of Hujjaj causing panic among both the pilgrims and their families back home.

“Previously, it was very difficult for the families to enquire about the well-being of their loved ones during such a crisis. PITB’s Hajj Monitoring System (MHS) launched in 2013, enables Hujjaj to inform authorities on the deceased, injured and the missing during an accident by entering their names and/or national identity card number into a web portal,” explained Dr Umar Saif, Chairman PITB, further adding, “The Hajj Monitoring System has enabled MORA to monitor the entire Hajj process allowing comprehensive monitoring through a specifically designed dashboard for officials. HMS also serves as an accident reporting system with an inbuilt escalation and alert mechanism for the authorities to mobilize and respond to accordingly. A consolidated report compiled through this data helped in identifying the number of lives lost, injured, and Hujjaj lost and found.”

The easy to use app serves as a complaint registration platform where team leads of HGOs and senior authorities are alerted to look into the matter and resolve immediately. The application is extremely user friendly and even the least tech savvy can log in and alert the authorities themselves or on behalf of a Hujjaj. In addition, PITB has installed a 24/7 helpline that proved highly beneficial throughout the Hajj. “The helpline is accessible via a UAN number in Pakistan and a toll free number in Saudi. Our teams were ultra-active during the two tragedies here in Pakistan and in Mecca. Throughout Hajj, PITB’s trained call agents entertained Hujjaj’s complaints, feedback and inquiries,” said Fasieh Mehta Joint Directore-Government Services at PITB.

Ayesha Naveed, whose family performed Hajj this year said, “I panicked and couldn’t get connected to our relatives. It was a friend from abroad who referred PITB’s Facebook post, and I got to know about the helpline. The helpline agent was extremely helpful. We couldn’t thank the authorities enough.”

Hajj Monitoring System through social media, helpline and app has reached out to millions not only in terms of providing updated information but also as a moral support in times of dire tragedy. PITB is fully committed to assisting pilgrims with a unified system that guarantees transparency and complaint resolution through the use of technology. Concerned for citizen well-being and facilitation, projects such as the globally recognised CFMP, Anti-Dengue Tracking System, Zimmedar Shehri and Citizen Contact Centre are among the mega dynamic endeavours PITB has initiated to reform government services.