October 10, 2017
India has a Haj quota of 1.70 lakh pilgrims who are ferried by Air India at subsidised rates.
A Centre appointed committee has said privatization of Air India will have serious consequences on the Haj operations & suggested the minority affairs & civil aviation ministries prepare their response in case this proposed disinvestment goes through.
The committee tasked with proposing the ‘Haj Policy 2018-2022’, has also suggested that the Centre engage with the Saudi Arabia govt. & try to get the option of undertaking global tenders for Haj air charter operations.
Panel with former Union secretary Afzal Amanullah as the convener, who has served as the Consul-General of India in Jeddah, has noted that during the air charter operations the flights go with pilgrims but return empty.
It’d be appropriate for the 2 ministries to explore the possibility of using the empty flights for commercial purposes to bring down the cost, it has said.
The panel has also made suggestions on the food served on the planes. “Food should be non spicy & as far as possible, suitable to the palates of the particular region from where the pilgrims are coming.”
The food has to be hygienically prepared & packed; it has also recommended random inspections to check its quality by officials, it said.
“Before the pilgrims disembark at Jeddah/Medina, the airlines must necessarily give an extra food packet & a bottle of water to every pilgrim,” it suggests.
The panel submitted its report to Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in Mumbai on Saturday.
India has a Haj quota of 1.70 lakh pilgrims & besides air, the govt. is considering the option of ferrying pilgrims via the sea route as well from the next year.
“The privatization of Air India, in case it happens, will have serious consequences on the Haj air operations. The ministries & Haj Committee of India have to consider & plan how best to overcome the challenge that’d arise in case of such eventuality,” the panel said.
The govt. has decided on strategic disinvestment of Air India & a group of ministers, headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, is working out the modalities. The committee has already had many rounds of meetings.
Airlines staff need to be formally trained about the behavior & attitude expected of them in their dealings with Haj pilgrims, the committee said. It also recommended necessarily having cabin crew knowing at least 2 Indian languages on each Haj charter flight.