NEW DELHI: The government has accepted a high-level committee's recommendation of increasing by over three per cent the quota of private tour operators sending Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
The high-level committee formed by the government to frame draft 'Haj Policy 2018-2022' had made the recommendation last month.
The committee had recommended that the quota of private tour operators be increased from the present 26.47 per cent to 30 per cent.
Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has confirmed that the panel's suggestion has been accepted.
India has an annual Haj quota of 1.70 lakh.
Out of this, according to the allocation for 2017, 1.25 lakh pilgrims could travel to Saudi Arabia through the Haj Committee of India (HCoI).
The private tour operators (PTOs) could transport 45,000 devotees.
The revision of the quota allocation now will mean that 51,000 devotees can travel through the PTOs. Remaining 1.19 lakh devotees can undertake the journey through the HCoI.
"We have accepted the recommendation. It is a logical recommendation which has been accepted after studying each aspect of the issue including that of interests of the pilgrims," Naqvi said.
He also said that the categories of PTOs have been increased to three from two. The private players are categorised based on the number of years they have facilitated pilgrims (more the number of years of operation, higher the category they are put in).
Those, who have successfully completed at least seven years of operations, are put in category 1. According to a source in the ministry, the allocation revision "should not make much of a difference" for devotees given the Haj subsidy is being gradually reduced in view of a 2012 Supreme Court order.
As per the apex court's order, the subsidy is to be abolished gradually till 2022.
"Earlier people would seek to go through the HCoI because they would get subsidy. Now the subsidy is being gradually lowered since 2012," a source said.
"So, it should not make much of a difference to the devotees whether they undertake the journey either through the HCoI or PTOs in future," the source added.
The source also said that the ministry plans to ensure stricter regulations to see pilgrims are not troubled by PTOs.