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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has sought special tax exemption on the import of technical equipment in Pakistan by the KSA authorities for the Road-to-Makkah initiative, official sources told Business Recorder.

Road-to-Makkah initiative was a hallmark of Hajj Operation 2019 wherein completion of all immigration and customs requirements were conducted at airport of origin, saved time of the Hujjaj, throughout the country. About 22,000 Hujjaj, took benefit from the pilot project while travelling from Islamabad International Airport to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for performing Hajj under government scheme.

The sources said, after successful completion of Hajj Operation 2019, the Prime Minister approved, in principle, the implementation of the project, in next year's Hajj, to four other airports, ie, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. Accordingly, the Ministry approached Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, KSA through Ministry of Foreign Affairs for "scaling up of Road-to-Makkah" but due to COVID-19 pandemic, Hajj 2020 was cancelled by KSA for international pilgrims.

The KSA authorities shared a pre-condition for scaling up of Road-to-Makkah initiative for other stations through Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad. The pre-conditions were shared with all stakeholders, ministries/divisions/departments for their input.

In this regard, a meeting was also convened on October 7, 2020, wherein all the stakeholders showed their readiness and willingness to provide all required services for this project.

In addition to this, the FBR conveyed that approval of ECC/Cabinet will be required for grant of special exemption on the import of technical equipment in Pakistan by the KSA authorities, in light of Section 20 of the Customs Act, 1969, withdrawn from the FBR vide Finance Act No. V of 2015.

Recently, the Director General (Hajj), Jeddah noted that due to COVID-19, the scenario has changed and scaling up of Road-to-Makkah project is expected to be extended to at least two more cities, ie, Karachi and Lahore subject to the approval of Royal Council of KSA. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has requested the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet to accord approval, allowing the FBR to grant special exemption on the import of technical equipment in Pakistan by the KSA authorities.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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