MUMBAI, Oct 17 (PTI): The applications for the next year's Haj pilgrimage will be accepted online from Thursday and the process will be fully digital, the Haj Committee of India announced Wednesday.
Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the pilgrimage will be completely free of subsidy.
The subsidy was scrapped by the Union government earlier this year.
The Haj Committee of India, which makes arrangements for the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca for devotees from the country, is a statutory body of the Minority Affairs Ministry.
Speaking at the Central Haj House here, Naqvi said the online application process for the Haj 2019 will start from October 18 and end on November 17.
The early start will ensure a smoother process and better facilities for pilgrims, he said.
The process of tender for choosing airlines to carry the pilgrims will be completed by November, and the accommodation-related process in Mecca and Medina will be completed by December-January, Naqvi said.
"Accommodation rates in Saudi Arabia will be the same as 2018," the minister assured.
"This year (for 2019 Haj), we have 21 embarkation points, the latest (to be added) being the Calicut airport," he said.
Naqvi said the pilgrims will be able to board the flights for Saudi Arabia from the airport in their home state or from airports in adjacent states.
He said even after the removal of the subsidy, the Haj 2018 offered a better experience for the pilgrims.
"Elimination of middlemen and 100 per cent online and transparent system ensured that even after removal of the Haj subsidy, there was no unnecessary financial burden on pilgrims," Naqvi said. The fear that the pilgrimage would become costlier was allayed, he added.
Naqvi said the government has requested the Goods and Services Tax Council to consider the withdrawal of additional 3 per cent tax on the Haj pilgrimage.
He said a record 1,75,025 Muslims from India performed Haj in 2018.
Naqvi also unfurled a national flag installed on the terrace of the multi-storey Haj building, 350 feet above the ground level.
It is the highest national flag installed atop a building at sea level in the country, Naqvi said.