Mumbai: The central government will examine the demands of private tour operators who facilitate Haj and Umrah pilgrimages, particularly those pertaining to service tax and restoration of Haj quota, Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Wednesday.
He was speaking to a delegation of several private Haj and Umrah tour operators who met him here and submitted their grievances.
All India Haj-Umrah Tour Organisers Association (AIHUTOA) Chairman Baba Kolsawala said that for the past 35 years, the private players, who operate parallel to the Haj Committee of India, have rendered yeoman service to pilgrims.
“Earlier, the private tour operators were exempt from Service Tax on the lines of the Haj Committee, and the pilgrims going through the private operators did not get government subsidies,” Kolsawala said.
Seeking an end to “discrimination” vis-a-vis the Haj Committee of India, he said the ST is now an additional burden on the private operators and must be abolished, especially since Haj is a religious obligation.
On the issue of quota, the AIHUTOA has demanded restoration of the 20 per cent quota which was reduced due to the expansion of the Haram Sharif and demanded a further hike in quota to match the increased population.
Kolsawala also urged for proper distribution of the Haj quota between Haj Committee and AIHUTOA which is not being done now.
“The submission and scrutiny of private tour operators’ files for quota allotment by the ministry must be completed well before the start of the next Haj season,” Kolsawala said.
Additionally, they pointed out that the Indian and Saudi Arabian government already provide free medical services to Indians and all pilgrims going for Haj pilgrimage.
Accordingly, there is no need for a separate medical insurance for the pilgrims and it should be replaced with a compulsory Group Accident Compensation Insurance policy.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Naqvi said it was a fruitful round and the government would examine the various issues presented by the AIHUTOA.
“The centre has been encouraging online applications for the next Haj to enable people get an opportunity for going on the pilgrimage with ease and complete transparency,” Naqvi said.
During Haj 2016, he said around 4,600 people applied online, or about 11 per cent of the total applications received across the country.
Of these, Maharashtra topped with 10,960, Kerala with 9,257, Uttar Pradesh with 5,407, Telangana with 2,983, Jammu & Kashmir with 2,426 followed by Gujarat’s 2,425 online applications.
Naqvi added that the Indian government would request Saudi Arabia to increase the quota for Indian Haj pilgrims.
This year, around 99,903 pilgrims travelled to Jeddah for Haj from 21 embarkation points across India through the Haj Committee, and another 36,000 went through the private tour operators.
Besides Kolsawala, the meeting was attended by AIHUTOA President Shaikh Aarif, Vice-Chairman Shaukat Tamboli and other senior officials.