Recommendations for streamlining HAJ

Recommendations for streamlining HAJ

I went to Saudi Arabia for performance of Haj in 1997 as member-secretary of the good will delegation of Government of India. Again I went there in 2004 for performance of Umrah. In 2013 also I undertook Haj pilgrimage.

In the Haj pilgrimage undertaken in 2013 I tried to evaluate the various arrangements critically from safety and comfort points of views. I divided the short comings in arrangements among Haj Committee of India, Consul General of India under Ministry of External Affairs and the Government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I used to send reports on hardship faced by Haj pilgrims to Urdu newspapers of Patna. I think little was published. Later when I spoke to the editor of an Urdu daily I was told that adverse news would discourage the people who would embark on Haj pilgrimage. I told him that if short comings are exposed and corrective measures taken now then in future they would have comfortable pilgrimage. None of the three authorities took corrective measures resulting in incidents of large casualties of life of pilgrims in subsequent years either in stampede during stoning of Jamarat at Mina or crushed by falling of cranes hanging over complex of Haram Kaaba besides their discomfort in accommodation, food and transport.

Role of Haj Committee of India :

The Haj Committee of India is primarily responsible for organizing pilgrimage. Its members and officials keep on visiting Saudi Arabia almost throughout the year. It is alleged that that they get bribe at every stage of arrangement.
The following are few shortcomings in respect of transportation of pilgrims :

1.Azizia-Kaaba : The pilgrims staying at Azizia faced hardship in reaching Haram Kaaba. Their package included bus passes for to and fro travel between their accommodations and Haram Kaaba. But this facility was stopped from the 4th day to the 13th day of Eid-uz-zoha. Some of the accommodations were located as far away as 5 to 8 kms. They had to come to Haram Kaaba by taxi paying SAR 30 for one way travel. Some of them preferred to offer namaz in mosques in their areas itself.
2. Tawafe Ziarat : The pilgrims faced hardship in travelling from Mina to Makkah for doing Tawafe Ziyarat at Kaaba. The top point of Haj day, that is 9th Zilhijja, is spending day at valley of Arafat in designated area, then move to Muzdalifa to spend night there. After that the pilgrim comes back to Mina on 10th Zilhijja morning where he hits the pillar of large satan, Jamarat, with seven pebbles(kankari). After that Qurbani, sacrifice of the goat, camel or any other animal is done which responsibility is almost fully entrusted to the agency of the government which organizes sacrifice without presence of the pilgrim. After that the pilgrim has to get hair of his head shaven of, called Halaq. After that Tawafe Ziarat has to be performed at Kaaba Haram as soon as possible between 10th Zilhijja to afternoon of 12th Zilhijja, preferably on 10th itself. During the period no facility of transport was arranged for going to Makkah. The pilgrims had to walk down 8 kms on road to reach Makkah. Due to tiring movements in last few days the pilgrims are in extreme exhausted and fatigue state. There are women, old men and women besides sick and handicap pilgrims some of them on wheel chairs. This is most trying time for pilgrims. Some of them march through about 2 kms tunnel to reach makeshift bus stand where buses are available at exorbitant fare. After Tawafe Ziarat the pilgrim has to return to Mina same evening to complete the ritual of stoning of Jamarat, satan in next two days. Due to poor transport arrangement the pilgrims had to walk on foot about 100 kms. in five days of Haj.
3.Accommodation arrangement at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa : The accommodation in tents arranged at Mina were poor. There were acute shortage of toilets and shower points. In fact due to long queue and poor water pipe system and shortage of water tap points for wazu pilgrims used to become napak, unsuitable for namaz. But pilgrim had to do namaz even in that condition. Sometimes Muallim’s staff gave substandard biryani or other food items and sometimes the pilgrims had to purchase food items from food stalls. There used to be general comment of workers of Muallims that the selection of accommodation was based on kick back given to officials of CGI and HCI.
4.Khadimul Hujjaj, Free sponsorship : It was alleged that large number of persons were sponsored by HCI, their cost borne by fee collected from pilgrims. What was the need to send Khadimul Hujjaj along with the groups. They are first timer Haj pilgrims. In the guise of helper of pilgrims they availed of free sponsorship to perform their Haj pilgrimage. They were rarely seen near regular pilgrims. They were neither interested in helping the pilgrims nor they were required to be sent on Haj mission. It was a system to send favourites on such free sponsorship.

Role of Consul General of India and Ministry of External Affairs: Role of Haj Mission offices:

Lobby of Muallims :

The Pakistani origin establishment and staff were given contracts to take care of pilgrims from India. They did not treat Indians well. They used to shout that no action would be taken against them or Muallim’s organizations as the contracts were made on the basis of bribe given to officers of CGI and HCI. The staff of Muallims used to openly allege that kick back were paid in selection of Muallims and Buildings. I am sad to know that corrupt Muslim officials do not even spare pure Islamic activities of Haj. I believe they would have earned sin in the same proportion of their bribe.

Lobby of Owners of Buildings :

The lobby of the Owners of Buildings which were selected for accommodations of pilgrims is very powerful. The officials of CGI and HCI selected substandard buildings and accommodations on the basis of bribe, as alleged by some landlords and other officials involved in the selection process. As per strict condition of the government of Saudi Arabia no woman can go on Haj without a Mahram, the person allowed by Islam to accompany a woman. But this condition is thrown to winds when non Mahram men also get accommodation in the same room having beds for 4 to 5 persons. It is really a trying time for women pilgrims. Neither the HCI nor the government of Saudi Arabia is doing anything to stream line accommodation as per Islamic rule.

Mina-Arafat-Muzdalifa : The officials of CGI at Jeddah and Indian Embassy at Riyadh were deputed to look after pilgrims at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa. But they were conspicuous by their absence. I found about two hundred such staff and their family relaxing in five star luxurious tents. But they never visited any tent or inquired welfare from any pilgrim. They cheated the government of India and must have earned sin for their intentions. I must applaud the services rendered by some voluntary Muslim youth organizations of South India. When nobody was available to guide the way or route they helped the pilgrims. They organized some stalls also.

Medical team : I found medical team most useful at all places. They rendered great service to ailing pilgrims. In case of any accident also they were very helpful. I fully approve of sending women doctors and staff on Haj duty.
Air flight co-ordination : Every year there is great confusion in schedule of flights of Air India and Saudi Airways. Many times they are delayed abnormally and sometimes cancelled without prior information to concerned pilgrims. It is acute in return journey after completion of Haj. There should be set up a co-ordination and monitoring cell comprising of representatives of HCI, MEA, Air India and Saudi Airways at New Delhi.

Role of Government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia :

Credit should be given to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for organizing every year Haj pilgrimage performance by about thirty lakh persons from all over the world. I also give credit to them for continuing development of Haram complexes at Makkah and Madina. They do not hesitate in demolishing buildings and structures worth several thousands crore rupees. In last one decade many improvements have taken place. The infrastructure of ablution, toilets and shower facilities inside the complexes of Harams of Makkah and Madina are outstanding. They are well maintained and kept clean throughout. However, there are few areas in which there are visible short comings on the part of government of the Kingdom.

Qurbani : There is continuous difficulty in performing Qurbani, sacrifice of goat, camel or other animal as per Islamic guidelines. The pilgrim has to be just satisfied that he purchased coupon from competent agency approved by the government of the Kingdom for Qurbani of animal in his name. Atleast he should be informed on mobile phone about the time when his qurbani takes place.

Metro : There was mismanagement of transportation service for pilgrims for movement between Mina-Arafat-Muzdalifa-Mina on 9th and 10th Zilhijja. The government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia introduced metro train service between these destinations and made it compulsory ride. Without any logic it banned other modes of transport like bus, etc. The Metro system failed to meet the challenge as number of trains was few and train lines were just two. Moreover, the movement of pilgrims was handled by low level seasonal staff who did not have training for it. Due to heavy rush around metro stations few pilgrims died also. The pilgrims were left fighting to complete the rituals of Haj.

Shortage of food stalls : One area in which immense improvement is required is facility of food stalls and restaurants near the Harams of Makkah and Madina. Immediately after namaz in Harams several lakhs pilgrims surround such outlets located around the Harams. There is heavy rush for food due to shortage of such facility. The government should create infrastructure to organize large number of food stalls during Haj season.

Cranes : I appreciate the Kingdom is making all efforts to widen infrastructure of the complexes of Harams at Makkah and Madina. I found several cranes hanging over Haram Kaaba complex. They looked very dangerous and great safety hazard. Before start of the Haj season the cranes should be removed. There is also need to remove other construction support system from the Harams. These hanging cranes fell on pilgrims inside Haram Kaaba complex which resulted in death of several hundred pilgrims in later year.

Jamarat at Mina : In last decade much improvement has been done at Jamarat satan complex. Still few years back large number of pilgrims were killed in the stampede. There is need to utilize modern technology to improve the infrastructure so that no accident takes place in future. The protection of life of pilgrim is paramount responsibility of the government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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