The religious affairs ministry has taken various punitive measures including revoking license, forfeiting security deposit and imposing financial penalty against some 50 hajj agencies for their involvement in irregularities in hajj operation, causing sufferings to pilgrims last year.
The ministry came up with the stringent action, as its investigation found evidence of cheating hajis by those private hajj tour operators, Anisur Rahman, secretary to the religious affairs ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday.
The ministry also took other actions, like suspending license and issuing warnings against hajj operators, said the secretary.
He, however, could not provide detailed statistics regarding the actions against the hajj operators immediately.
The irregularities committed by private hajj agencies include arranging poor-quality accommodation for hajis, arranging their lodging far away from the Kaba Sharif, not providing food, transport and other due facilities to hajis as promised, and realising excess money from devotees, said Anisur Rahman.
Around 600 private hajj tour operators were allowed to send 1.27 lakh pilgrims to Saudi Arabia last year.
The religious affairs ministry formed an investigation committee after getting allegations of various irregularities from the pilgrims against different agencies.
After hearing and verifying statements of both sides, the probe body decided to take actions against the 50 hajj agencies.
Sources at the ministry said none of these agencies will be allowed to send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year.
According to the hajj agreement with Saudi Arabia, around 1,27,198 pilgrims from Bangladesh will be able to perform hajj this year.
Of them, 7,198 will go on the pilgrimage under government management and 1,20,000 under private arrangement.
The hajj is likely to be in August, subject to the sighting of the moon.
According to a document of the religious affairs ministry, Salwa Overseas Services provided accommodations for its hajis four to five kilometres away from Kaba Sharif, although the hajj tour operator promised to arrange hotel within 1,000 metres from the holy site.
Anwar Hassain, a pilgrim, also filed a complaint with the ministry that Salwa Overseas did not provide them food for several days. At one stage, staff of the agency -- who had accompanied hajis to Saudi Arabia -- went into hiding.
The ministry, after hearing from both sides, revoked license of Salwa Overseas, forfeited its security deposit and fined it Tk 10 lakh.
According to another document, license of Mouri Air International was revoked and security deposit forfeited for very poor arrangements of accommodations for hajis.
Dr Harunur Rashid, in his allegation, said Ababil Travels and Tours did not arrange due accommodation, food and transport facilities for them.
After investigation, the ministry found proof regarding the allegations.
The ministry afterwards cancelled Ababil Travel's license and also forfeited its security deposit after hearing.
In some cases, the religious affairs ministry also advised victims to file criminal cases against the owners of respective tour agencies.
Contacted, Shahadat Hossain Taslim, secretary general of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), said only realising fines or cancelling licenses of hajj agencies could not deter hajj operators from causing sufferings to pilgrims.
“The government should be careful so that middlemen are not involved in hajj operations," he added.
The secretary general of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh said middlemen were mostly behind the irregularities.
Proprietor of Mouri Air International, Nozir Ahmed Azad, said he has appealed to the ministry for reviewing its decision, which was made on Wednesday.
“We are waiting for the final decision following the review,” he added.
Phone numbers provided on web sites of Ababil Travel and Salwa Overseas were found to be incorrect.