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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > How did the Haj become so risky

How did the Haj become so risky?

Updated on: 21 June,2024 06:48 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Faisal Tandel |

With five people from Maharashtra dying during the pilgrimage, Thane man writes to PM, CM seeking CBI probe into mismanagement

How did the Haj become so risky?

Pilgrims crammed in a small space and compelled to sleep near the toilet

Key Highlights

  1. Indian Haj pilgrims have alleged massive mismanagement by authorities
  2. These issues have been compounded by the inability to reach the toll-free number
  3. Additionally, reports of deaths among pilgrims have heightened concerns

Indian Haj pilgrims have alleged massive mismanagement by authorities, complaining about severe water shortage, inadequate accommodation, a lack of transport services, lack of coordination, and the absence of guides for khidmat, among other problems. These issues have been compounded by the inability to reach the toll-free number provided by the Haj Committee for assistance, leaving many pilgrims feeling deserted. Additionally, reports of deaths among pilgrims from various countries, including five from Maharashtra, have heightened concerns. Approximately 1.75 lakh Indian pilgrims participated in the pilgrimage this year, with around 1.25 lakh to 1.35 lakh going through the Haj Committee of India.

The packed tent in Mina
The packed tent in Mina

A Thane resident with a political background has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde asking a CBI inquiry about the mismanagement scam. mid-day spoke with several pilgrims from Mumbai to gain an insight into the challenges faced during their important spiritual journey. Sohel Rokadi, 52, a toy business owner, said he had been trying to embark on the pilgrimage for the last four years and this year his number was selected. He left for the journey with five family members after paying Rs 3.20 for each person.

“The facilities we received were not what we paid for. The problems started as soon as we reached our accommodation building. For almost two to three days we had no water. We have to maintain hygiene but there was no water. Accommodation was in a complete mess. If a family had five members, four would be accommodated in a single room and the fifth was sent to some other room. In rooms where there were four of a family, including women, they accommodated bachelors. Isn’t there supposed to be some privacy?”

Pilgrims say there was a shortage of food even for those who booked via private operators
Pilgrims say there was a shortage of food even for those who booked via private operators

Rokadi also accused the committee of mismanagement in making the travel arrangements. He claimed that his family was compelled to walk several kilometres in the scorching heat. “The buses for travelling from our room to Arfat were not on time. We waited from night to dawn and many from morning to evening for the bus. Many were compelled to book private cars by paying 200 riyals, after waiting for the bus for hours. Other countries had AC buses, but we were provided school buses. The bus dropped us 5-10 km away, forcing us to walk. The buses provided by other countries stopped near the tent. Did these countries pay more to reach the tent?” he questioned.

‘Dropped far from Mina’

According to Rokadi, they faced same problem while travelling to Mina (Mina is also known as Muna and commonly known as the ‘City of Tents). The valley is located 8 km southeast of the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. “We were dropped off kilometres away and compelled to walk. The tent at Mina with a capacity of 2,500 had around 3,500 in it. Leaving no space to walk, people were sleeping near the toilet. Is this what we get for the amount we paid? The toll-free numbers are not in use. Not a single person received a response from them. We are here to pray, not to complain. But the facilities provided are not proper and the Indian government should look into the mismanagement,” said Rokadi.

Overcrowded tent in Mina
Overcrowded tent in Mina

He further added that this year some government officials had come along for khidmat as guides. “The khidmatdar usually helps in taking the luggage or pushing the wheelchair. But they were just standing around the place and doing their own thing. When we approached them they said ‘when you pay less, this is what you get’. Private operators are charging four times the amount which is why we chose the Haj Committee. But they are running a scam,” he said, adding that many people have died due to a heat stroke. “No one was ready to pick them up for hours.” “Later, facilities were made available, but what is the use? They brought us to die here. And we are ready to accept death, but not due to mismanagement,” he said.

Fahad Hingwala 32, who runs a cloth business in Mumbai and had gone with four of his family, said, “The facilities provided by smaller countries, like hotel arrangements, tents and other facilities, are much better than what India provides. We are the third largest country to send pilgrims but the arrangement is messed up. We wonder if there is any corruption. They have facilities to accommodate 3, 5 and 8 people but are purposely accommodating some bachelors in the family room. The tent we were provided in Mina had no cooler or AC facilities. We were sweating throughout the day,” he said, adding that none of the authorities were ready to take responsibility.

‘Stood in queue for hours’

Meanwhile, a person who went from Maharashtra through a private tour operator said the situation was the same. He booked his trip through a well-known international operator but still facing difficulties. “We got food only after standing in a queue for hours. We won’t complain as we came here to pray. We are sharing a tent with citizens from Nigeria and other countries. It was very difficult due to less space. Half of the people don’t even get food on the trip and are getting segregated when it is time to pray and praise the lord,” he said.

Pilgrims waiting for the bus
Pilgrims waiting for the bus

Irfan Shaikh alias Bablu Shaikh, a resident of Thane who is the Haj Committee member of Maharashtra appointed by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, has also raised the mismanagement and lack of arrangements issues. “After Hajj started, I began receiving complaints from pilgrims about the lack of facilities. We tried to contact and reach the Haj Committee but received no response. Hence we approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Shinde, raising the issues. They are taking R3.20 lakh from people in Mumbai and Rs 3.40 lakh from people in Nagpur, then why such mismanagement? From Maharashtra, there are around 21,000 Hajis and for them only 89 khidmat people are appointed. Even so, they seldom bother to take care and feel doing khidmat is below them,” said Bablu.

He added, “They have to make basic arrangements but fail to do so, so where is the money going? Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan and providing good facilities, then why are we lagging? Is there a scam? If we calculate, more than 1.50 lakh people from India went on pilgrimage and the amount collected will be in hundreds of crores. We ask them to show the agreement to the Hajis which indicates a particular amount was spent for accommodation and travel. But they are not ready to show the same, clearly indicating a scam in the same. Hence, we have asked for a CBI inquiry and removal of Liyaqat Aafaqi, the CEO of Haji Committee of India. He is personally handling the process and not involving any person from the Haj Committee. Our organisation also asked to arrange buses for pilgrims from their house to the airport. But it was refused. When can we get facilities in India like we see in other countries?”

Well managed: Haj  Committee

The Haj Committee refuted all the allegations claiming they had managed the Hajj trip well and claimed some mismanagement would have happened as the crowd was huge. Liyakat Aafaqi, CEO, Haj Committee, said, “I will ask people not to believe in rumours and pictures that have been circulated on social media. We have made proper arrangements. There were complaints of accommodation, but as soon as we found out, we rectified the issue if we saw that a family is accommodated in a single room. As for the toll-free number, at a single time there are around 1.75 lakh people and many would be calling on the same number, causing a network issue. There is a huge crowd of pilgrims from all over the world, numbering around 18 lakh people. And in such a crowd there would be some issues like traffic and narrow roads. So people may have faced some delays or dropping. But all the buses were provided and reached on time.”

Talking about the deaths reported, Aafaqi said there were around  58 people from India who died during the pilgrimage. “Around 29 of these are natural deaths and others are pre-Haj deaths. All of them were 60 years of age or older. Adding it to it was the heat. The medical teams are working really hard. There are also some missing persons from India and we are in the process of location them,” he said.

Total no. of pilgrims who have died on the Haj this year

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