Mumbai: Haj Committee fleecing pilgrims? Rs 25 lakh blown in every meeting
Community up in arms against Haj Committee, whose single meeting costs Rs 25L, for charging three lakh applicants a non-refundable fee of Rs 300, and over one lakh selected pilgrims Rs 1,000 as 'processing fee'
Around 1.25 lakh people went for Haj last year via the committee
Lakhs of Haj hopefuls depend on the Haj Committee of India to arrange the holy pilgrimage to Mecca for them every year, but of late, many of them feel like the committee is taking them for a very different ride. The committee, which is supposed to serve the pilgrims, is instead splurging their hard-earned money on business flights across the country and trips to Saudi Arabia.
Even as thousands of citizens are forced to spend their entire life savings to pay for the pilgrimage, sources have revealed that the Haj Committee is spending more than Rs 25 lakh on every single meeting - money that comes from the enrolment fees of lakhs of citizens applying for the pilgrimage.
Business class flights
As per policy, the committee is supposed to hold at least four meetings a year at Haj House in south Mumbai. But the agency usually holds six or more meetings over the course of the year, spending heavily each time. "There are a total of 23 members in the committee, and every meeting is attended by around 16 to 18 members. The members are flown in from different state travels. Not only do 90% of them fly business class, but they often book the tickets just a day before the flight, when ticket fares at peak price. This is despite the fact that they are informed of the date of the meeting well in advance. The members spend an average of two days in the city; while some of them are accommodated in rooms at Haj House, other are put up at hotels," said a source. "Their accommodation, meals and travel all add up to about Rs 25 lakh per meeting. Say the committee holds six meetings; at this rate, it ends up spending about R1.5 crore solely on meetings every year," he added.
The Haj Committee had earlier also been criticised for sending delegations of 10 to 12 members to Saudi Arabia every year to check the arrangements made by the Indian consulate in the Arab country. Sending such a huge team costs crores, said sources. The authorities has since cut the delegation to just three to four members, but suspiciously, the expenses never reduced.
However, committee members claim that a majority of the money collected from Hajis is spent on organising the pilgrimage, and on expenses such as salaries for staffers and volunteers. The first step towards Haj is to enrol with for a fee of R300. The committee received around Rs 11 crore from as many as 3.55 lakh enrolments for 2018. "This charge is for processing the application," said a member of the committee. However, not everyone who enrolled will be lucky enough to go for Haj. The committee can only accommodate 1.3 lakh pilgrims. Last year, the figure was lower, at 1.25 lakh pilgrims. As for the remaining 2.25 lakh people who will miss out this year, the Rs 300 charge is non-refundable (total of R6.75 crore).
Officials said this money is distributed among the 23 regional Haj committees across the nation. From every Rs 300 collected, around Rs 200 goes to the state-level committees, while R100 remains with the head office in Mumbai.
The 1.3 lakh who are selected for Haj are then asked to pay another R81,000. This year, the last date for payment is February 12. "Out of this, Rs 80,000 is a deposit we ask them to make so we can be sure of their commitment to the pilgrimage," said a source, who further added, "The remaining Rs 1,000 is charged as further processing fees."
While the deposit is eventually spent on the pilgrims' travel, the Rs 1,000 charge is used by the committee for its expenses. For 1.3 lakh pilgrims, this comes up to a total of Rs 13 crore. For every Rs 1,000 received, the central Haj committee keeps Rs 550 and sends the remainder to the state committees.
The other side
Dr Maqsood Ahmed Khan, chief executive officer, Haj Committee, said, "The money we collect is not the earning of the committee, as this is a non-profit initiative. In fact, our expenditure is more than our collection. Despite this, we get no funding from the government; we do it all on our own." The committee members said that they have to pay salaries to 80 permanent staff and 150 seasonal staff who help with the enrolment and processing. The money collected from Hajis also goes towards the maintenance of Haj House.
Another big expense they pointed to was arranging volunteers to help the pilgrims on their journey. They claimed they spend around Rs 2 crore ever year just to train the khidmatgars (volunteers, also known as master trainers) and arrange for their travel, lodging and boarding. "We hold a two-day training programme for khidmatgar, since each one is responsible for 500-600 pilgrims. During the training, we also cover their meals and accommodation, which costs about Rs 2 crore," said our source.
House of God
>> Indians constitute one of the largest national groups that perform Haj
>> Hajis can opt to travel with the Haj Committee of India (HCoI) or registered Private Tour Operators (PTO)
>> HCoI is a statutory body established under the Haj Committee Act, 2002
>> This year, the quota for Indian Hajis is 1.3 lakh through HCoI and 45,000 through private operators
>> Candidates who fail to get selected for Haj thrice would earlier qualify for reserved seats on the fourth attempt. This reservation has now been abolished
Akbar Shah, Tameez Bi
Rejected for Haj for 5 years
'We have paid Rs 3,000 over the years for enrolment. There should be a system to refund the money of those who are rejected'
Amin Patel, Congress MLA
'The committee is meant to serve the Hajis. They should make enrolment for Haj free of charge'
Haji Haider Azam, vice-president, BJP Mumbai
'Rs 25 lakh is not a small amount that they can spend this every time they hold a meeting. They collect R24 crore every year, how can they claim to exhaust this amount? It stinks of corruption; I will write to the PM and Minority Affairs minister about this'
Rais Shaikh, muncipal councillor, (SP)
'This is a completely illegal practice. Most of the Hajis are middle-class, senior citizens who spend their life savings to go for Haj. If the committee is enjoying on the cash of Hajis, they will have to answer to god.'
Input by Saeed A Khan
Rs 24 cr
Amount the committee collected from Hajis for 2018 pilgrimage
Rs 2 lakh
Per head cost of Haj
Amount paid as enrolment and processing fees
Rs 24 cr
Amount the committee collected from Hajis in 2017
Rs 25 lakh
Cost of a single meeting held by Haj Committee
Rs 1.5 cr
Approximate amount spent on just meetings annually