LAHORE - Strongly supporting the idea of gradually transferring the Hajj operation to the private sector, head of the Hajj Organisers Association of Pakistan (HOAP) said Wednesday that such a move would enable the intending pilgrims to get many packages according to their resources and stay durations in Saudi Arabia according to time available to them.

HOAP Chairman Waheed Iqbal Butt told The Nation that those performing Hajj under the government scheme get a single package of expenses and a stay of 42 days.

Compared to this, he said, under the private Hajj scheme, a person could perform this religious obligation even in 13 days. But others who have time could perform the Hajj rituals and visit various places for 40 days. Likewise, those with resources could get facilities of their choice at all important places, he emphasised.

The private organisers are service providers while the government is their regulatory authority. Involved in the Hajj operation the government plays the dual role of a service provider as well as regulatory authority. The government, he said, should limit its role to that of the regulatory body.

At present there are 804 HOAP members, who would be handling 76,184 pilgrims this year.

Minister for Religious Affairs Dr Noorul Haq Qadri said recently that the Hajj pilgrimage will become more expensive in the coming five years. He explained the pilgrimage would become expensive as Saudi Arabia has said that all countries should gradually hand over Hajj packages to the private sector in the following three to four years.

The HOAP chairman, elaborating on the multiplicity of packages offered by the private sector, said at Mina there were four categories of residences, each with its own set of facilities. The more the resources, the more comfortable the stay. The ‘maktabs’ from where the pilgrims go to Jamrat to stone the Satan are at a very short distance. (The ritual is called Rummy in Arabic language).

There are four categories of maktabs here. The more expensive the package, the less the distance to the Jamrat.

Answering a question, Mr Butt said Hajj season till 2028 will be in summer, when stay at Mina without air-conditioned tents would be very difficult. Only the pilgrims being handled by the private sector would be able to withstanding the scorching heat during all these years.

He said even if the Hajj operation was transferred to the private sector, the HOAP would not like any inexperienced company to be given Hajj quota.

At present, a novice company can be given a quota of only 50 pilgrims. The maximum quota is 300 pilgrims. This means, many more companies would have to be enlisted to handle the pilgrims.

Mr Butt said the government should devise a long-term policy to bring down the Hajj expenses. In case the private sector was given five-year letters for quotas, the relevant companies would be able to hire cheaper buildings in Makkah and Madinah much before the Hajj, as a result of which the stay of pilgrims would be much cheaper. Rents of buildings hired very close to the Hajj days are always very high, because of which the Hajj expenses go up, he argued.