Mumbai: With the Haj Committee announcing full refunds of the fees for the ensuing Haj 2020 season, the pilgrimage dreams of thousands of muslim faithfuls are shattered.
From Maharashtra, around 10,500 Muslims were selected and were scheduled to go on the most important pilgrimage of their life.
However, with no clarity forthcoming from the Saudi Arabia government, and with several countries like Indonesia and Pakistan voluntarily cancelling their own plans, the situation this year appears bleak for prospective Hajis.
"On March 13, before India went into lockdown, the Saudi Arabian government had conveyed to us to temporarily halt Haj 2020 preparations, without any further communication thereafter. The writing on the wall seems clear," Chairman Maharashtra State Haj Committee Jamal Siddiqui told IANS.
Coupled with the Central Haj Committee's decision to give the full refund to the pilgrims and no further instructions from Saudi Arabia, he feels Haj 2020 may remain just a desire for muslims, but nobody can be blamed for it.
"This is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, we feel the pilgrims shouldn't be made to suffer. We have written to the Centre demanding that the same lot of people selected must be allowed to go next year. If the Centre is giving a refund, then it should be with adequate compensation also," Siddiqui urged.
He sought to know why the Haj Committee continued to collect the fees despite the Saudi Arabian government's communication of March 13 which put a question mark on Haj 2020 pilgrimage.
This year, an estimated 200,000 Muslims from India were planning to perform Haj, including over 125,000 through the Haj Committees, and the rest around 47,000 through private Haj Tour operators.
Indian Haj & Umrah Tours Operators' Welfare Association (IHUTOWA) President Syed A.R. Milli said that the demand for compensation is unjustified, but he supported the demand to carry forward this year's list of pilgrims to the 2021 Haj season.
Senior Congress leader Naseem Khan, expressing similar sentiments, averred that people apply for years, so those selected for 2020 this year should not be deprived of this once-in-lifetime opportunity and the government should consider them for 2021 Haj.
Pilgrims going through the Haj Committees pay up Rs.201,000, those in the Green Category pay Rs 2.90 lakhs.
Those opting for the private haj tour operators are required to pay between Rs 3.50 lakhs to Rs 12 lakhs depending on Gold, Silver or Bronze category of the applications, said Milli.
Incidentally, in May this year, the much-anticipated Ramadan Umrah was suspended for the first time, disappointing around three million pilgrims worldwide, including an estimated 500,000 from India alone.
The first flight for Haj - starting on July 28, 2020 - was scheduled to depart from Mumbai and other parts of India from June 22, and the return flights were expected by August.
The visa endorsement and other final processes were due to start from May 8 onwards, but it was not taken up in view of the Coronavirus pandemic, and several countries opted to cancel their own Haj plans, according to Siddiqui.