DHAKA: Last minute enhancement of airfare by the airlines, transporting pilgrims to the Holy Land from Bangladesh, have put the Hajj agencies in trouble as they will have to bear the increased fare.
With the first Hajj flight scheduled to deport July 24, the Hajj agencies fear that not many pilgrims would be flying this time and that they (Hajj agencies) would face losses on many counts.
Giving a background, one of the top agencies handling pilgrims requesting anonymity, said, we could not declare our packages at Hajj and Umrah Fair 2017 organised by Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) as the government did not declare its packages, by them.
It has become a custom over the years that Hajj agencies declare their packages after the government announcement, he pointed out. The ministry did that after the fair was over.
When the Hajj agencies have already completed the process, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, on July 4, 2017 suddenly announced Tk 1,27,590 fare per passenger against the earlier (Hajj Package 1438 Hijri) fare of Tk 1,24,723 declared by Pilgrimage Branch (Hajj Shakha) Ministry of Religious Affairs.
It may be pointed out that Biman’s decision to enhance fares generally follows ministry’s prodding.
The fare is Tk 2867 more than the amount announced by the Pilgrimage Section of the Ministry of Religious Affairs earlier. If the present dollar exchange rate of Tk 80.20 per dollar is considered, the fare should have come down by Tk 450 instead of the aforesaid increase, M Shahadat Hossain Taslim, Secretary General, HAAB pointed it out to the ministry through a letter dated July 6, 2017.
He said that money, as per the earlier announced package, had already been taken from the pilgrims. There is no scope of realising the extra amount from the pilgrims at this critical juncture. So this increase will have to be borne by the Hajj agencies, which is impossible, nor practical nor acceptable.
In his letter, Shahadat Hossain Taslim requested the ministry to carry the pilgrims as per the earlier announced fare.
The would-be pilgrims are not willing to pay this increased amount over the fare they had paid during registration three to four months ago. The pilgrims also want the portion of Moallem Fee money back which should be rightfully returned to them.
In the past few years the Hajj agencies used to pay the Moallem Fee for every pilgrim to the government of Bangladesh, which would then hand the amount over to the government of Saudi Arabia. But this year the Saudi government issued a directive that the “operating Hajj agencies” will have to remit the amount themselves.
Ahead of this announcement, the Hajj agencies had paid Tk 30,752 to the ministry which included Moallem Fee of Tk23,413.50 and related fees. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs memo of June 6, 2017 the agencies were to pay Tk 20,351 per pilgrim to Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj agencies were yet to get back the remainder of the money from the ministry, which forced Secretary General, HAAB to write to the ministry about the return of money (artha ferot) on July 4, 2017.
They also pointed out that Hajj agencies’ owners or top officials generally go around Ramadan 15 to Saudi Arabia to make accommodation arrangements for the pilgrims for the Hajj. But when they flew there they found the concerned ministry of the government of Saudi Arabia was yet to begin the process. The ministry of that country did not start the process even by the end of Ramadan, sources added.
The sources said they would face difficulty regarding accommodation this year because of the late start of the process. Moreover, there would a rush this Hajj as with the completion of extension and renovation of Holy Ka’aba, Saudi Arabia expects 20 per cent more pilgrims to perform Hajj this year.