Hajj crisis deepens
The Religious Affairs Ministry and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab) are blaming each other for around 15,000 hajjis not getting their visas and pushing their pilgrimage into uncertainty.
Meanwhile, Biman yesterday cancelled another dedicated hajj flight, the 11th to be cancelled this year, due to shortage of hajjis, Biman sources told The Daily Star.
This has raised concerns that many hajjis would not be able to perform their hajj this year.
Haab at a press conference yesterday issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the government to remove acting secretary of religious affairs ministry Md Abdul Jalil and Director of Ashkona Hajj Office Abu Saleh Mostafa for their incompetence, non-cooperation and corruption.
“Otherwise, Haab will be forced to take to the streets taking 1,400 hajj agencies and hajjis with it,” Md Ibrahim Bahar, president of Haab told the press briefing held at a city hotel.
At the briefing, Haab leaders alleged that due to non-cooperation, corruption, and mismanagement of Secretary Jalil and Director Mostafa, intended hajjis were not getting visas and delivery order (DO) letters.
Haab urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to intervene.
The press briefing was organised after an emergency meeting of Haab executive committee on how to settle the rising problems of some 15,000 intended hajjis.
“… the Director of Ashkona Hajj Office [Mostafa] starts work after 12:00pm. He usually signs the DO letter [a document needed for getting visa] after midnight in exchange for money,” alleged Ibrahim.
He alleged that the director takes bribes between Tk 10,000 and Tk 20,000 to sign the death certificate of a hajji who had passed away before he or she could perform the hajj. This is necessary for hajj agencies for sending another hajji in his or her place.
Haab Secretary General Shaikh Abdullah alleged that due to the two officials, the entire process of getting visas for hajjis and other formalities were getting bogged down, causing cancellation of Biman's hajj flights.
The cancelled flight of the national flag carrier with 419 seats was scheduled to take off this afternoon, Tasmin Akhtar, an official of Biman told this newspaper.
In the previously cancelled 10 hajj flights, at least 4,500 hajjis could have flown to Saudi Arabia, Biman insiders said.
In the briefing, Haab came up with a five-point demand including taking measures to send “moallem” fees of 143 hajj agencies to the Saudi authorities immediately so that over 5,000 hajjis could get visas soon.
The Haab president said the agents paid the fees to the religious affairs ministry for depositing those to the authorised Saudi bank by June 30. But the government did not complete the necessary procedures to get the clearance from the Saudi authorities.
Despite repeated phone calls, The Daily Star could not reach the director of the Ashkona Hajj Office.
Abdul Jalil, acting secretary of the religious affairs ministry, however, refuted Haab allegations and said it was hajj agencies' failure to blame.
He said the agencies did not get Biman tickets for the hajjis despite getting visas. “The total matter should be investigated as to why and for whose failure such a situation has developed,” Jalil added.
“More than 72,000 pilgrims got visas, but only 46,000 went to Saudi Arabia. So why did not the agents confirm the tickets of the rest? This should be investigated,” he added.
Asked, Haab president Ibrahim said all hajjis cannot be sent at the same time. “We cannot buy the ticket of an intended hajji for tomorrow or the day after since the hajji has rented a house at Madina from August 28 or from later.
“We have tickets available for at least 5,000 hajjis who have already got their visas and they are going to Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Ibrahim said that they could not confirm air tickets for around 15,000 pilgrims until the visas were issued to them.
Biman and Saudia, selected by the government for hajj flights, are expected to operate 144 and 107 hajj flights from Bangladesh.