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Rejecting 63 percent increase in Hajj expenses, the opposition lawmakers tabled a calling attention notice in Senate on Friday, saying the move reflects how serious the incumbent government is to make the country a model like 'State of Medina.'
Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) submitted the calling attention notice, expressing disappointment over the Hajj policy and reminded the government that it had claimed to transform the country into a Medina-like state.
He said the entire nation was worried about the new Hajj policy, as people with meagre resources could not afford to perform Hajj if that remained the situation. "The government should have provided some relief to people in the Hajj expenses. The recent increase in Hajj expenditure has pushed the religious obligation out of the people's reach," he lamented.
On January 31, the federal cabinet announced the Hajj Policy 2019 under which the cost of performing the ritual under the government scheme has been fixed at Rs 456,426 (with Qurbani), against last year's expense of Rs 280,000 per head. Now, every individual will have to pay an additional amount of Rs 176,426.
Under the Hajj Policy 2018, the cost of Hajj for individuals in the north of the country was Rs 280,000 and for the south, it was Rs 270,000. However, in the new policy, the cost of Hajj for individuals in the north has been fixed at Rs 456,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs 436,975 (without Qurbani), while for those in the south it is Rs 446,426 (with Qurbani) and Rs 426, 975 (without Qurbani).
Senator Ahmed termed the move a "drone attack," saying Hajj had become a target of 'tsunami'. He regretted that the government didn't seek recommendation from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before deciding on the matter pertaining to a religious obligation.
He said that introducing the new policy was tantamount to refraining people from performing Hajj, adding the government "should not invite ill-wishes" of pilgrims.
"The government claiming to be a Medina-like state is refraining people from visiting the holy sites of Makkah and Medina," he said, adding the same government had announced to spend billions for restoration of cinemas. He suggested that instead of spending billions of rupees for restoration of cinemas, the government should subsidise Hajj.
Former Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani pointed out the absence of Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri in the ongoing session. He asked the treasury benches if the minister was angry. "Neither did he address the press conference on Hajj policy nor has he responded in the Senate to the notice," added Rabbani.
In cabinet meeting on January 31, Qadri had reportedly walked out after his proposal for a subsidy of Rs 45,000 per pilgrim was rejected by his fellow members of the federal cabinet, and it was the reason he did not accompany the information minister to address a presser on new Hajj policy.
Senator Shibli Faraz of the PTI told the Senate that the minister was not angry.
State Minister Ali Mohammad Khan responded to the notice, saying the government was standing by its stance of establishing a Medina-like state.
The minister clarified that 70 percent of expenditures were made in Saudi Arabia and the government had no control over expenditures there. He further elaborated that expenses for accommodation, meals and other services had drastically been increased in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "The government has been trying to provide some relief," he added.
Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjarani suggested that provision of subsidy to Hajj pilgrims would be a better move. Talking to media persons on Friday regarding the matter, Federal Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said that Medina model did not mean provision of free Hajj.
He said, "The Riyasat-e-Medina model that the government keeps talking about is [a model that should] bring well-being to the people, the abolition of poverty, the [creation of] an educated society, development of infrastructure and the turning Pakistan into a welfare state."
"The Riyasat-e-Madina [model] certainly does not mean sending people to Hajj for free and through the nation's subsidy on it. It does not mean that those on whom [the pilgrimage is] mandated upon, do it using the peoples' money." The minister did, however, said, "Yes, had it [a subsidy] been given, it would have been great."
Meanwhile in Senate, Raza Rabbani by staging a walkout recorded his protest over the absence of ministers from the session. He said the opposition had demanded to ensure presence of the relevant minister over the issue of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council. He accused the government of deliberately ensuring that the PMDC chairman doesn't appear before the Senate.
"[We] raised the issue of dialogue between the United States and [Afghan] Taliban but didn't receive any response," he said, adding the Senate was being kept in the dark.
He added that Major General Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), gave a detailed interview on January 27, in which it appeared that he was well aware of all details [pertaining to the dialogue]. "Will you inform us about the details after culmination of the talks?" he asked.
Later, the opposition parties staged a walkout in protest against the absence of ministers. Following the walkout, the session was adjourned as the quorum was pointed out.
On Jan 25, the Senate chairman had shared same concerns and sought a reply from Prime Minister Imran Khan over the continuous absence of PTI ministers from the Senate proceedings.
While Senate proceedings were underway, the chairman had instructed the Senate Secretariat to write a letter to the Premier, informing him of the ministers' absence and inquiring as to why these lawmakers had not been attending the House's proceedings.
"The ministers have made a habit of not attending the Senate session," the chairman had said, adding his dissatisfaction at the ministers' absence should be conveyed to the Premier.
Earlier on Friday, the Senate approved budget recommendations by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance. Senator Farooq Naek presented the recommendations.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019


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