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17 September 2011

Licences of 170 Haj tour operators cancelled

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Mumbai: The Haj plans of nearly 10,000 pilgrims have been jeopardised after the central government cancelled the licences of 170 private tour operators, an official said here on Friday.

"The licences were cancelled after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) revised eligibility criteria for private Haj tour operators," All India Haj Umrah Tour Organisers' Association (AIHUTOA) chairman Ibrahim Kolsawala said.

He said the association will move the Bombay High Court next week.

The first batch of pilgrims for the most-awaited Muslim holy tour is scheduled to leave Sep 29, and a majority of the affected tourists are from Mumbai, he said.

Kolsawala said the MEA had announced the new criteria for Haj-2011 programme late June and gave July 15 as the last date for providing the details.

One of the criterion said the tour operator must have a 250 square feet office. However, since it was not mentioned whether the 250 square feet should be built-up area, super built-up area or carpet area, the operators sought a clarification from the MEA.
The clarification was issued July 14, just a day before the deadline of July 15, Kolsawala said.

As a result, around 170 operators failed to meet the criterion and their licences were cancelled, and another 125 new names of operators have been included in their place, he said.

The move will hit around 10,000 pilgrims who had paid advances and booked through the 170 tour operators, Kolsawala said.

"This is arbitrary, unjust and will entail collective losses of over Rs.50 crore to these 170 Haj operators," Kolsawala said.

The services provided by these operators were making visa arrangements, providing tickets and insurance, ensuring proper accommodation in Mecca and Medina, food, transportation, tour guides and taking care during medical emergencies, among others.

This year, India and Saudi Arabia have agreed to a quota of 172,540 pilgrims from the country, according to AIHUTOA general secretary R.S. Bhikhan.

While around 125,000 pilgrims will go through the Haj Committee of India, the remaining shall go through private tour operators.

"While the Haj Committee will charge around Rs.1.25 lakh, we'll charge up to Rs.two lakh per head," Bhikhan said.

(Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle)

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