The government is considering surrendering as many as 40,000 seats out of the total Hajj quota assigned to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.
According to a report in Dawn, the government has been forced to consider this proposal due to the shortage of foreign exchange reserves. No final decision has been made in this regard as the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and the Ministry of Finance are deliberating over options to resolve the situation.
During a minister chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday to review progress on Hajj Scheme for the current year, the minister was informed that Hajj expenses to be paid this year would be over $270 million, against earlier expectations of $90 million.
Due to this massive difference, the government is considering surrendering 40,000 seats out of its quota of 179,210 this year assigned by Saudi Arabia.
The government had introduced a scheme to pay Hajj expenses in US dollars which failed to live up to expectations. Under the scheme, the government hoped to raise close to $180 million, reducing the reliance on the reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to pay Hajj expenses.
However, only 15 percent of the seats (6,000) offered through this scheme have been availed so far. The government has already extended the last date for submission of Hajj applications under the sponsorship scheme to April 7, from the earlier deadline of March 31 in a bid to attract more applicants.
Out of the total quota assigned to Pakistan, the government equally divided the quota between private Haj operators and the government’s scheme. A total of 45,415 seats out of the government quota were set aside for the sponsorship scheme, under which applicants have to pay for the Hajj package in US dollars.
Contrary to the low interest in the sponsorship scheme, the government has received an overwhelming response for the regular scheme, receiving 72,869 applications against 44,190 seats, as reported by ProPakistani earlier.
Another proposal put by the religious affairs ministry is to accommodate pilgrims who have applied for the regular scheme on the unutilized quota of the sponsorship scheme. However, this will only happen if the finance ministry covers the expenses in US dollars.