Mumbai, May 5 (IANS) The Maharashtra Congress on Saturday opposed the recent hike in airfares and visa fees for Haj and Umrah pilgrims, saying it has made the annual pilgrimage unaffordable for a large number of Muslims.
In a letter to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Mumbai, former Congress Minister and legislator M. Arif Naseem Khan said that the Mumbai-Jeddah and Medina return airfares have been increased from Rs 35,000 to Rs 52,500, or more than 50 per cent.
Besides, the visa fees have also been hiked by around Rs 35,000 for those pilgrims wishing to go for a repeat Haj/ Umrah pilgrimage within two years, he said.
“The Indian Muslims are economically weaker and they spend their entire lifetime savings to go for this biggest pilgrimage of their life. This is now become exorbitant and unaffordable to many who may not be able to go for this pilgrimage,” Khan said.
Many Indian Muslims have resented the sudden airfares and visa fees hike as now Haj would become a remote possibility for them, he added.
Khan urged the Consul-General to convey their sentiments and request to the Saudi Arabian government to review and slash the enhanced airfares and visa fees to ensure the pilgrimage remains accessible and affordable to a larger number of people.
This year, the Haj pilgrimage season is scheduled to start in the fourth week of August, while Umrah can be performed around the year, with many preferring to travel during the Holy Ramadan month of fasting and penance, starting May 15 worldwide.