Sunday, 19 June 2005

Indian Hajis put to trouble in the holy city of Mecca

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 19: About 18,000 Indian Hajis have been put to inconvenience in the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia with the Central Haj Committee denying them accommodation as promised.
The Hajis, who opted for Category-A accommodation, were given buildings at Sheesha about three to four km away from the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The cost of Category-A accommodation is Rs 89,000 and for stay at Sheesha is Rs 69,000.
The Indian Hajis on Monday held a demonstration in the holy city demanding accommodation as promised as stay at Sheesha will make it difficult for them to walk to the Grand Mosque for prayers five times a day. The Haj Committee simply washed off its hands saying that its duty had ended with the Hajis boarding the flight to Mecca.
"There is not much a problem. The Hajis who opted for Category-A could not be accommodated near the Sacred Mosque due to unforeseen circumstances," State Haj Committee chairman Hafiz Peer Shabbir Ahmed. He said the difference in accommodation fee would be refunded on return to India.
The problem arose because of the delay in paying the rentals to the building owners in Mecca. While Haj panels of other countries make on the spot payment to building owners, Indian Haj Mission makes delayed payment i.e. after collecting the money from the Hajis. With other countries booking buildings in the vicinity of Ka'ba, Indian Hajis were left with no choice other than taking shelter in Sheesha and Azizia.
According to sources, Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy has dashed off a letter to Union Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed and following this the Centre has agreed to make the payments first on its behalf and then take the reimbursement from the Haj Committee of India.
Indian Consul-General in Jeddah Dr Ausaf Sayeed said minor hiccups in transportation on December 17 have since been sorted out with the Saudi authorities and transport providers and the round-the-clock transportation service is now running very smoothly.
Dr Ausaf Sayeed and Dr Suhel Ajaz Khan, Haj consul, are now camping in Mecca to closely monitor the transportation and other arrangements along with other senior officials of Indian Haj Mission.
"The situation is absolutely under control and there is no reason to panic.
A large number of buildings nearby Haram Sharif (Grand Mosque) have been demolished in the past few years in order to expand the praying area for the growing number of pilgrims visiting the Holy city. The number of pilgrims this year is expected to be 3.5 million. As a result of this, there is acute shortage of accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the Haram Sharif," Dr Ausaf told this correspondent in an email message.
This year about 18000 pilgrims from all the Indian States, who had applied for Category A or I accommodation, have been reallocated in Sheesha area.
Another 9,159 pilgrims of category-B or II have been reassigned to the nearby Azizia area. After the incident, the Indian Haj Mission has ensured that transportation is provided from the place of the stay to the Holy Mosque.
The Consul-General admitted that there have been some congestion and minor delays in transportation during the peak hours, especially after the Isha (night) prayers. "This is unavoidable as a result of the movement of a large number of pilgrims of several countries to and fro from the Holy mosque. More than 2,50,000 pilgrims are living in the Sheesha and Azizia areas, including pilgrims from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Indonesia, Morocco, Bahran and UAE," he pointed out.
Senior officials of the Consulate General of India are in touch with officials of the South Asian Moassasa to work out the "stoning of the devil" schedule for the Indian pilgrims assigned to various Saudi Maktabs.

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