Promising a hassle-free Haj pilgrimage this year, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday vowed instituting an inquiry into the disappearance of some 64 prized Indian guesthouses in the twin holy Saudi Arabian cities of Makkah and Madina.
These guesthouses known as "Rabaat", were built over the years by erstwhile Nawabs of various Indian provinces to accommodate pilgrims of their regions. After Independence, though their ownership was transferred to the Indian government, there is no trace of them today. "We need to inquire, what happened to the properties donated for Hajis by the Indian rulers," she said. Even, if they had been acquired and demolished by the Saudi authorities, a big question looms, why no one in the Indian government ever asked for alternative sites or compensation.
Identifying accommodation in Saudi Arabia as the main issue for pilgrims, the minister called for a long-term solution. She said the government may think on building a complex in the twin cities with the help of the Saudi government. "They can be used for Haj pilgrimage for three months; for the remaining nine months, people going for Umrah and Ziyarat can stay there," she said.
The minister, while addressing a conference on facilities for Haj organised by the Central Haj Committee here, said the contractors found negligent in offering services to the pilgrims should be blacklisted. Swaraj also criticised the previous UPA regime for not attending to the issue of Haj pilgrims. She said the pilgrimage henceforth would be more fruitful and gratifying. "There are lack of proper facilities for pilgrims. We would ensure all basic facilities are extended to Haj pilgrims."
"Most people get an opportunity to go to Makkah for Haj only once in their lifetime. People collect money for years to go for Haj. Our effort will be to make the journey of pilgrims comfortable," Swaraj said.
She also criticised the official carrier Air India for disparity in fare from pilgrims. The pilgrims of J&K are charged Rs1.54 lakh as they take a flight from Srinagar while others boarding from designated airports are charged Rs62,800.