–JI senator says govt wanted a ‘State of Madina’ but issued ‘disappointing’ Hajj policy
–Rabbani draws attention to Qadri’s absence
–Shehbaz accuses PTI cabinet of providing ‘most expensive Hajj ever’
–Ali Muhammad claims PML-N did not raise Hajj prices in 2017 as ‘election tactic’
–Blames Pak rupee devaluation for price surge
–Alleges Senate is ‘being kept in dark’ on Afghan-US talks
–Opposition stages walkout
–Parliamentarians split over cabinet’s decision
ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan on Friday claimed that 70 per cent of the newly-revised price of Hajj covers expenses in Saudi Arabia and is beyond the government’s control.
The minister was responding in the Senate to a call to attention notice by the Opposition in which it had raised attention to the exorbitant rise in prices of Hajj packages.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had decided to end the subsidy on Hajj, as members of the federal cabinet argued that “those who are financially able should perform Hajj, those who are unable should not go.”
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan had moved a call to attention notice in which he had asserted that the incumbent government had claimed that it would erect a “State of Medina” but its Hajj policy is a disappointment and it is now stopping people from going to Makkah and Medina.
He urged the government to reconsider its policy for it had moved the pilgrimage “out of people’s reach”. The highest number of pilgrims are from Pakistan, he stated. Terming the rise in prices a “drone attack”, he wondered if Hajj has become part of the “tsunami of inflation”.
Further, he lamented that the government did not bother to consult the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) before deciding the matter pertaining to a religious consultation.
Instead of spending money on restoration and renovation of cinemas, he demanded that the government should offer a subsidy on Hajj.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani also drew attention to the absence of Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri from the session, who had reportedly walked out of the federal cabinet meeting on Thursday after the cabinet decided to cut the subsidy. He inquired if the minister was upset for he did not address the Hajj policy press conference or respond to the notice in Senate.
However, the information minister denied reports that Qadri was to be present at the press conference.
However, the minister for parliamentary affairs justified that the PTI government is still trying to provide relief to those wishing to perform Hajj as Finance Minister Asad Umar insisted upon it.
At that, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjarani interjected that perhaps the provision of further subsidy to Hajj pilgrims would be “a better move”.
Due to a 50 per cent increase in the expenses incurred in Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage, the minister claimed, the government had to raise the prices of Hajj packages and it is beyond its control.
Further, he stated that the rent of buildings increased from Rs60,900 to Rs94,185 while the cost of transportation increased from Rs9,000 to Rs13,104 and food charges rose from Rs23,000 to Rs38000.
“The accommodation in Medina increased from Rs23,200 to Rs40,000, train charges from Rs7,250 to Rs 20,000 and the cost of sacrificing animals went up from Rs13,050 to Rs19,451 rupees while the cost of air travel has gone up by Rs17,000.”
Moreover, he claimed that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government did not raise Hajj prices in 2017-18 “because it was the year in which elections were going to be held”.
Further, he blamed the devaluation of Pakistani rupee for an increase in Hajj expenses. “Truth is spoken in a ‘State of Medina’ and we will establish such a state and show you,” he asserted.
‘MOST EXPENSIVE HAJJ TO DATE:’
Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif also criticised the government’s decision to raise Hajj prices and vowed that the Opposition would soon raise the matter in the National Assembly (NA).
He claimed that the government has given the “most expensive Hajj to date” to its people and mocked that it appears as if they are no longer treating Hajj as an “act of worship but as a source of income”.
Moreover, he alleged that the PTI cabinet is the “first ever to not subsidise Hajj in some way” and questioned why the benefits of reduced oil prices could not trickle down to provide relief to those who wish to go on the pilgrimage.
He called upon the government to facilitate those who wish to go on the holy pilgrimage rather than “creating difficulties” for them.
He claimed that the former PML-N government had kept the Hajj prices from rising and made “best arrangements” for the pilgrims. However, he lamented, this government has made it hard for a common man to even think of undertaking Hajj.
MARRIYUM LASHES OUT AT GOVT:
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb slammed the PTI government’s step of doubling the cost of Hajj for Pakistanis and questioned the implementation of such a major step without discussion and approval in the parliament.
She said that the PTI government had yet again proven that it would go to any lengths to snatch every bit of relief from the people and would not even stop at one the foundational obligations of Islam. Marriyum said that Nawaz Sharif not only subsidised Hajj for the people who “save every penny all their lives to go for Hajj”, but also improved the facilities of Hajj for government pilgrims to a completely different level of excellence. She said that Nawaz arranged free meals, exceptional boarding and transportation facilities for the Hajjis while maintaining a hefty subsidy.
The PTI government, however, could not muster up basic religious courtesy and human empathy for the dreams of Pakistanis with humble means and is covering up its own economic inability, incompetence and failure by stealing from Hajjis through subsidy cut. She said that the government had failed at all levels to serve the people and was at a loss on how to manage the affairs of the state without crushing the people.
She straggly condemned the act of circumventing the elected parliament of the people over such an important decision and warned the government to check its “autocratic ways”.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Raza Rabbani said that the House had raised the issue of dialogue between the United States and Taliban but no response was given and alleged that the Senate was “being kept in dark”. Referring to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Direct General Major General Asif Ghafoor’s January 27 interview, he said that it appeared that Ghafoor was well aware of the details, but the Senate has not been informed. He inquired if the Senate will receive details after the talks end.
Rabbani also lodged a protest over the absence of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) chairman from the Senate, for the Opposition wanted his presence to resolve the issue of PMDC.
Senator Sherry Rehman said that the ordinances were not put before the House according to the constitutional provisions. Senate Chairman Sanjrani said that he had given the ruling that ordinances should be laid before the House on the first day of the session.
During the proceedings, Leader of the Opposition in the House Raja Zafarul Haq rose from his chair and said that since the ministers were not coming to the House, the opposition senators will stage a walkout. Leader of the House Shibli Faraz commented that in the previous tenure of the Senate, former minister of parliamentary affairs responded on behalf of other ministers multiple times. As he was making his point, a senator from the opposition pointed out the lack of quorum. The House’s proceedings were stopped for some time but later the opposition returned.
The house, meanwhile, deferred the calling attention notice of Senators Sherry Rehman and Muhammad Atiq Shaikh which drew attention towards the revision of the flight duty time limitation of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) by the management due to which the duty time of cabin crew was extended from 12 to 16 hours.
The finance minister started to speak and said that the opposition wanted to score points and was not interested in listening to him. He said that he did not present a mini-budget but presented a reforms package in NA, adding the stock market index had increased by 10 per cent or 3,000 points in the last month. He said that the confidence of banks was getting restored and Pakistani bonds in the international market were getting better response.
During his speech, the opposition members again left the house which prompted the Senate chairman to prorogue the session for an indefinite period on the orders of the president.
PARLIAMENTARIANS SPLIT OVER CABINET’S DECISION:
Talking to media outside the Parliament House, Senator Samina Saeed was of the view that Hajj is a religious obligation only on those who are financially sound to a certain level, adding that people, who are not financially strong, should not seek government subsidy to perform this ritual. She said that it is compulsory on Muslims once in a lifetime on those who are physically and financially sound.
Another parliamentarian Senator Sajjad Hussain Turi said those who want to perform Hajj, should spend their own finances instead of seeking subsidy from the government. However, he reiterated the government’s commitment to providing maximum facilities to pilgrims in the coming Hajj season.
Opposing the government’s decision, Senator Sitara Ayaz urged the government to provide subsidy in order to lessen the financial burden on pilgrims.
Meanwhile, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri also insisted the government for reviewing its decision of zero subsidies to the intending pilgrims. He said that the government should make all-out efforts to address pilgrim’s problems as it is the government’s moral duty too.