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'Pak Govt charged extra 153mn rupees as "royalty" from Haj pilgrims'

December 21, 2010 - Islamabad

The Pakistan Government levied an extra charge of 153 million rupees on Haj pilgrims in the name of 'royalty', and paid the amount to two airlines, a Senate committee has been informed.

According to information placed before the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs, each of the 85,000 pilgrims under the government scheme paid 20 dollars- around 1,800 rupees- over the cost of the Haj pilgrimage, The Dawn reports.

In reply to a question, the recently removed Religious Affairs Secretary, Agha Sarwar Qazilbash, informed the committee that the money had gone to the Pakistan International Airlines and the Saudi Airlines, which were primarily responsible for transporting the Pakistani pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Under a mutual agreement, each of them has a 50 per cent share in the pilgrimage from Pakistan, and in the event of one airline failing to fly its allotted quota of pilgrims, the other would be paid an additional amount of 20 dollars per pilgrim to do the job, the official said.

"Nobody can understand the logic behind this extra charge. Instead of penalising the failing airline, how come poor pilgrims are asked to foot the additional bill," questioned Haji Mohammad Adeel of the Awami National Party (ANP), who had earlier raised the issue in the Senate.

He said that the additional cost would be justified for pilgrims missing their flights, "but equally surprising is the fact the money is charged from all pilgrims for no fault of theirs."

Agha Sarwar, who has been asked to report to the establishment division because of his alleged involvement in the mismanagement of Haj arrangements, said that the practice had been followed for several years.

However, he failed to come up with a satisfactory answer when the committee members questioned his ministry's role in allowing what they called the corrupt practice of robbing people in the name of religion.

"How can you get away with this responsibility?" asked Mohammad Saleh Shah, Chairman of the committee, when the official repeatedly attempted to put the blame on the airlines.


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