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Jeddah to Jaipur, Kashmir to Kozhikode — government goes into overdrive as 1.75 lakh leave for Haj pilgrimage

Indian officials welcome the first all-women Haj flight from Kozhikode to Jeddah on Friday (Image courtesy: Consulate General of India in Jeddah)

The Indian government continues to take several new initiatives in order to make the first full-fledged Haj pilgrimage since the Covid-19 outbreak more comfortable, convenient, and affordable for pilgrims.

On Friday, Indian Ambassador Suhel Ajaz Khan was present at the King Abdulaziz International Airport to welcome passengers of Air India Express IX 3025 – the first all-women Haj flight from Kozhikode to Jeddah with all-women Hajis flown in by an all-women crew.

Apart from receiving a number of Indian Hajjis coming from various states, the Ambassador and his team of Indian Haj Mission officials are also continuously reviewing stay and transport arrangments at the Tent City of Mina where the pilgrims stay for five days during the Core Haj Period and perform all the Haj rituals.

Although a five-day religious congregation, it is virtually a year-long managerial exercise and remains one of the most complex organisational tasks undertaken by the Indian government outside its borders.

As many as three large medical centers with a total in-patient capacity of 90 beds and more than 15 other dispensaries have been set up in the holy city for the Indian pilgrims.

More than 50,000 Indian Haj pilgrims have already arrived in Saudi Arabia with the total number of Hajis this year being 1.75 lakh as per the bilateral agreement between the two countries.

Last month, Minister of Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Zubin Irani said that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given special attention to cost-cutting measures in the Haj package by removing unnecessary costs.

Besides ensuring the direct involvement of the Health Ministry and its agencies for medical screening of pilgrims in India, their vaccination, and hospitals/dispensaries in Saudi Arabia during Haj, the government also facilitated women empowerment by allowing single women to apply under ‘Ladies Without Mehram’ (LWM) category.

At 4,314 LWM is the largest-ever contingent of women proceeding on Haj alone without a male member.

Unlike earlier years, when each pilgrim was made available 2100 Riyals by the Haj Committee of India, irrespective of his actual requirements, Haj Policy 2023 gives the option and flexibility to the pilgrims to arrange their own foreign currency or take lesser foreign exchange, as per their individual requirements.

The government also collaborated with the State Bank of India to ensure the supply of Forex to the pilgrims at the most competitive rates.

With the addition of four new embarkation points at Kannur, Vijayawada, Agartala, and Calicut, the pilgrims now have been given an option to travel from 25 locations for Haj 2023.

On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha personally saw off the first batch of Haj pilgrims from the Union Territory of Jammu Kashmir at the Srinagar airport.

A total of 40 flights will be operating between June 7 to 22 from Srinagar as around 12,079 pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir and 452 from Ladakh perform the Haj pilgrimage.