STATE TIMES NEWSSRINAGAR: Apni Party President Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari on Saturday urged the government of India to revisit the new Hajj guidelines which has limited the age of pilgrims to travel to 65 years besides hiking the cost of Hajj pilgrimage by over one Lakh rupees.In a statement issued here, Bukhari said that thousands of Hajj aspirants in Jammu and Kashmir who could not embark on the holy trip last year because of theCOVID-19 pandemic would be deprived this year also because of the strict Hajj guidelines issued by the ministry of external affairs.“The exclusive quota for Hajj pilgrims aged 70 and above has been removed. Besides there has been a considerable hike in the Hajj cost this year which will make this holy journey unaffordable for thousands of aspirants,” Bukhari remarked, while urging the ministry of external affairs, government of India to take a lenient view into the matter.Bukhari pleaded that the government of India must revisit its latest Hajj guidelines in view of the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in which the Apex Court had directed earmarking of an ‘exclusive quota’ for Hajj pilgrims aged 70 and above and preference for pilgrims in the age group of 65 to 69 years who have already applied for the pilgrimage five times or more.He said with the removal of this exclusive provision meant for the elderly pilgrimage aspirants has dashed the hopes of hundreds of the families who were preparing with their lifetime savings to embark on the holy pilgrimage this year.“The government of India should not compromise and stick to the COVID protocol issued by WHO which requires each pilgrim to submit a negative RT-PCR test certificate before leaving for Saudi Arabia. This protocol can be applied to the pilgrims aged 70 and above also so that they get a chance to complete their lifetime religious obligation this year,” he pleaded.Similarly, he said the cost of the Hajj pilgrimage has been exorbitantly increased and the selected Hajj aspirants are now supposed to deposit Rs 1.5 Lakhs of the first installment instead of Rs 81 thousand as earlier.“There is an increase of around Rs 1.25Lakhs on the Hajj fee this year. This has made this holy trip almost unaffordable for many families with poor economic background,” Bukhari observed.He said that with the cancellation Hajj 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic around 2.13 lakh applicants in J&K were disappointed with the full refund of their registration fee that was initiated by the government after the cancellation process.“I appeal the ministry of external affairs to take a compassionate view on the issue and revisit its Hajj guidelines 2021 so as to enable thousands of Hajj aspirants of J&K to fulfill their religious obligation smoothly,” Bukhari demanded.
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