What price Haj pilgrimage?

A dispute is brewing between travel agents and the Government-appointed Haj committee -- also within the committee – over the cost of the pilgrimage, the Sunday Times learns.

The three-member Government committee comprising Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana, Deputy Minister Faiszer Musthapha and Colombo’s former deputy mayor Azath Sally had estimated the cost of the month-long pilgrimage to Makkah and Madeena in Saudi Arabia during November-December to be Rs. 300,000. Accordingly, the committee advised the travel agents not to charge pilgrims more than Rs. 300,000 for the trip, insisting that the amount was enough to cover accommodation, food and air ticket and earn a decent profit.

However, the Sunday Times learns that some travel agents have appealed to Governor Moulana and got it increased to Rs. 325,000 amid protests from Mr. Sally.

The former deputy mayor had said if the travel agents were not agreeable to the Rs. 300,000 package, the committee would take measures to send 1,000 pilgrims at this determined cost.

Saudi Arabia has a pilgrim quota system for countries and for this year’s Haj, Sri Lanka has received 5,800 quotas which are distributed by the committee among several Haj travel agents recognized by both Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.

A committee source said some travel agents had devised various schemes to circumvent the committee-stipulated cost, by offering value added luxury packages which cost as much as Rs. 400,000.

While Mr. Moulana is agreeable to this, Mr. Sally is not. Mr. Sally said that in previous years Haj pilgrim visas were sold to outsiders without sending the recipients, earning a profit.

Meanwhile Governor Moulana denied the allegation stating that Haj pilgrim tour operators should follow strict rules and criteria.

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