The Indian government’s proposal to send Haj pilgrims through the sea route has got the green signal from the Saudi Arabian government, Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Monday.
The discussion on reviving the sea route came up during the signing of the annual bilateral Haj agreement for 2018 between India and Saudi Arabia in the presence of Naqvi and Saudi Minister for Haj and Umrah Mohammad Saleh bin Taher in Mecca on Sunday.
Naqvi said officials from both the countries will discuss all the necessary formalities and technicalities so that Haj pilgrimage through the sea route can commence in the coming years.
“Sending pilgrims through ships will help cut down travel expenses significantly. It will be a revolutionary, pro-poor, pilgrim-friendly decision,” Naqvi said.
The ferrying of Haj pilgrims between Mumbai and Jeddah by waterway was stopped in 1995.
The Minister said that another advantage with ships available these days is they are modern and well-equipped to ferry 4,000 to 5,000 persons at a time. They can cover the 2,300-odd nautical miles one-side distance between Mumbai and Jeddah in just three to four days.
The old ships used to take 12 to 15 days to cover this distance.
Naqvi said that last year he had discussed the option to revive sea route for Haj pilgrimage with Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari.
He said that Haj 2018 has been made fully digital.
On the issue of Indian Muslim women going to Haj for the first time without mehram (male guardian), the Minister said that separate accommodation and transport has been arranged for these women.
Also, female Haj Assistants will be deployed for their help.
More than 1,300 women have applied to go for Haj without mehram and all of these women will be exempted from the lucky draw. These women would be travelling in groups of four or more women, according to the new Haj policy of India.
So far, around 3.59 lakh applications have been received for Haj 2018, against the quota of around 1.70 lakh pilgrims.
“For the first time, we have given option to Haj pilgrims to opt for another embarkation point. This will ensure that there is no financial burden on Haj pilgrims even after removal of Haj subsidy. This decision has received overwhelming response,” Naqvi said.