The federal government has unveiled the much-anticipated Haj Policy 2024, bringing a significant reduction of Rs100,000 in Haj expenses compared to the previous year.In a move to cater to diverse preferences, the government also introduced both a long-duration package of 38 to 42 days and a shorter 20 to 25-day option.
Minister for Religious Affairs, Aneeq Ahmed, highlighted key features, announcing that scheduled banks would start receiving applications for the regular scheme from November 27 to December 12.
Under the government scheme, the cost of Haj has been streamlined to Rs1,075,000, down from Rs1,175,000, ensuring a more affordable pilgrimage. Despite the cost reduction, Minister Ahmed assured that there would be no compromise on the quality of arrangements.
The introduction of a short-duration package comes with an extra charge of Rs75,000, but the minister emphasized that applicants from the southern region would have their expenses set at Rs1,065,000, with an additional Rs75,000 for the shorter duration. The Haj quota for Pakistan stands at 179,210, to be equally distributed between government and private Haj schemes.
A noteworthy feature of the Haj Policy is the permission granted to women without a Mahram to apply for Haj, following the recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). However, these women must seek approval from their parents or husbands and choose a group with trustworthy individuals.
Those who have performed Haj in the last five years are ineligible to apply, but exemptions are made for a Mehram accompanying a woman on her first Haj and those applying under the sponsorship scheme. Both government and private schemes have a quota of 89,605 each, with 25,000 allocated for the sponsorship scheme in the government plan and 50% of the private scheme reserved for sponsorships.
Haj 2024 is set to embrace digitalization, providing pilgrims with a mobile application that functions without internet connectivity. This innovative app offers various features, including a complaint lodging option.
Pilgrims will receive free essentials, such as a SIM with seven GB data, a suitcase with a QR code, Ihram belts for men, Abaya for women, and shoe bags. Negotiations with airlines are underway to secure reduced airfare for the Haj operation, with the possibility of transferring the relief amount directly to pilgrims’ accounts.
Additionally, pilgrims opting for a four-day stay in Madina instead of eight can anticipate a refund of Rs35,000. The Road to Makkah project, encompassing immigration, security, and customs checks, has expanded to include Karachi, with efforts to include Lahore currently under request.