Despite the removal of the Haj subsidy from the 2018 pilgrimage season, there was no financial burden on the pilgrims as middlemen were eliminated and a transparent, fully online system was put in place, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Terming the Haj-2018 as a 'pro-pilgrim' initiative, he said that in 2017, Rs 1,030 crore was paid to airlines for the airfares for 1,24,852 pilgrims, but in 2018, it came down to Rs 973 crore for 1,28,702 pilgrims who went for the pilgrimage through the Haj Committee of India.
This means Rs 57 crore less was paid to airlines this year though 3,850 more pilgrims travelled after ending the Haj subsidy, Mr Naqvi pointed out.
Terming the Haj-2018 as "successful", Mr Naqvi said that for the first time since Independence, a record 1,75,025 Muslims from India performed the pilgrimage without availing any subsidy and expected the number to go up further in 2019.
Safety and better facilities and medical amenities for the pilgrims are the priority of the government. There will be no lackadaisical approach on this, he said while announcing the Haj-2019 season at the Haj House in Mumbai.
He said that the online application process will start on October 18, while the offline process will be taken up on October 22, making it the first time that the next year's (2019) Haj preparations have been initiated immediately after completion of the current season (2018).
In 2018, a total of 3,55,604 applications were received, of which 1,66,387 were from women.
According to Mr Naqvi, the early start of the Haj process will ensure availability of better facilities and smooth functioning as all the concerned agencies, both in India and Saudi Arabia, would get sufficient time to make arrangements.
"The process of airlines tender will be completed by November 2018 and accommodation process in Mecca and Medina by December 2018-January 2019," Mr Naqvi said.
All the 20 embarkation points will be functional like 2018 and Haj pilgrims can also go via Calicut Airport and the accommodation rates in Saudi Arabia shall remain unchanged for 2019.