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Every pilgrim paid $20 royalty to airlines

ISLAMABAD: As revelations relating to the Haj fiasco continue, a Senate committee was informed here on Monday that the government had charged pilgrims an extra Rs153 million in the name of ‘royalty’ and paid the amount to two airlines.

Every pilgrim paid $20 royalty to airlines

The government had charged pilgrims an extra Rs153 million in the name of ‘royalty’ and paid the amount to two airlines. – Photo by AFP (File)

According to information placed before the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs, each of the 85,000 pilgrims under the government scheme paid $20 — around Rs1,800 — over the cost.

Answering a question, 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 Pakistani pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Under an agreement between the airlines, each of them has a 50 per cent share in the pilgrimage from Pakistan.

In the event of one airline failing to fly its allotted quota of pilgrims, the other would be paid an additional $20 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,” Haji Mohammad Adeel of the ANP, who had earlier raised the issue in the Senate, said.

He said 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,” he added.

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

He could not come up with a satisfactory answer when the committee’s members questioned his ministry’s role in allowing what they called the corrupt practice of robbing people in the name of religion.

The committee’s Chairman Mohammad Saleh Shah from Fata said the ministry was primarily responsible for the act. “How can you get away with this responsibility?” he asked when the official repeatedly attempted to put the blame on the airlines.

He also criticised officials of the ministry for appearing before the committee unprepared.

“Have you ever registered your protest with the authorities concerned on this issue?” Haji Adeel asked.

Senator Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party tried unsuccessfully to help the deposed secretary and blamed PIA for the charge.

Mohammad Ali Durrani of the PML-Q said the practice should be stopped immediately after holding a meeting with the PIA.

At least this committee should help stop the levy of this charge that is meant only for lining the pockets of hidden forces.

The committee decided to call all the officials concerned to its next meeting.

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