Monopoly on air tickets behind hajj flight mess
The hajj of many Bangladeshi pilgrims has become uncertain after the cancellation of at least 15 Biman flights in the last two weeks.
A section of leading hajj agents has allegedly monopolised the buying of air tickets of pilgrims.
“Some leaders of the Haab, including its president and secretary, have formed a syndicate with some air ticket agents for issuing the pilgrims' ID [cards] and air tickets in exchange for bribes,” alleged an agent yesterday wishing not be named.
The alleged leaders of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab) are deciding which agent would be able to send pilgrims on priority and making uncertain the fates of other pilgrims, the agent claimed.
“For each hajji, the syndicate takes an extra Tk 10,000 to Tk 20,000 for confirming air ticket,” the agent said.
This year, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia selected 483 agents to deal with the pilgrimage of Bangladeshis.
These agents have been allowed to handle the hajj activities for 96,558 pilgrims who registered online with the Bangladesh religious affairs ministry.
But only some leading hajj agents are now controlling the whole process, the agent added.
At least 143 agents were waiting to get confirmation from the Saudi government to send around 15,000 pilgrims whose fate hangs in the balance.
At a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club yesterday, some agents under the banner of "Haab Samonnoy Parishad" alleged that Haab leaders were involved in a syndicate and they were not doing any work without taking extra money from other agents.
“Now, the fate of 40,000 hajjis is uncertain. The Haab leaders, in exchange for money, have allowed only some selected agents to send hajjis to [Saudi Arabia],” claimed Golam Faruk, managing director of Haque Travels.
At least 10,000 fake names of hajjis have been registered, alleged Rejaul Karim Uzzal, managing director of Bright Travels.
The parishad yesterday issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the removal of Haab committee and ensuring visas for 20,000 new pilgrims. Otherwise, they would start an agitation programme.
However, Ibrahim Bahar and Sheikh Abdullah, president and secretary general of Haab, denied the allegations of taking bribes and being involved in any syndicate.
“When Biman has cancelled its flights for not getting available hajjis, how can they claim that a ticket syndicate exists?” Ibrahim told The Daily Star.
He alleged that some agents were bringing the allegations against the Haab committee to protect the acting religious affairs' secretary and Ashkona Hajj Office Director Abu Saleh Mostafa who were "incompetent and corrupt".
Denying his involvement in any corruption, Abdul Jalil, acting secretary of religious affairs ministry, said some dishonest agents have created the problem to get illegal benefits.
There was no crisis of visas for the pilgrims; rather the agents were not sending them, he said, adding that was why Biman had cancelled flights.
“There are some groups among the hajj agents. Some of them are now trying to make money illegally,” he observed.
Asked about the inclusion of fake names in the registration system, he said there were no fake names.
Abu Saleh Mostafa claimed that some Haab leaders were making such comments against him to hide their own mismanagement.
Lambasting Mostafa, Zakir Hossain, managing director of Air Times International, said, “Abul Saleh Mostafa is out-and-out a corrupt person.”
“I went to Mostafa's office seven times to get a document signed on replacement orders of 10 hajjis. He dillydallied,” said Zakir, also founder secretary general of Bangladesh Tariqat Federation, a component of the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance.
Asked, Mostafa said hajj agencies were submitting fake documents with their letters on replacement hajjis and that he needed time to verify those.