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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Pricier Hajj packages leave one-third of quota unfilled

  • HAAB president defends pricing
  • Many pilgrims find current rates prohibitive
Update : 12 Feb 2024, 09:23 AM

In the midst of preparations for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, concerns are escalating over the soaring costs and airfare monopoly affecting Bangladeshi devotees. 

Despite repeated deadline extensions for registration, less than two-thirds of the quota has been filled this year, echoing a trend observed in 2023 where thousands of registrations remained unclaimed against the quota for Bangladeshi pilgrims.

Speaking on the issue, Shahadat Hossain, President of the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), defended the pricing of their packages, saying: "We mainly fixed the cost for our clients following the government packages. Only the ministry can explain the loopholes in the process."

However, many pilgrims, along with a few Hajj officials and tour agents, find the current package rates prohibitive. "The prices are totally beyond their reach," voiced one concerned aspirant.

The grim figures since 2017 portray a significant escalation in Hajj package costs. In 2017, the lowest airfare for the pilgrimage amounted to Tk124,723, which has surged by 56.19% to Tk1,94,800 in recent years.

Religion Affairs Secretary, Md A Hamid Zamadder, addressed efforts to mitigate costs, stating, "We have worked on reducing the government package (general) rate this year." Zamadder attributed part of the increase to external factors, stating, "This year, we have to pay Tk334,00 to the Saudi government. And Tk Tk1,94,00 is the airfare while the rest of the total amount is for other costs."

The preference for Umrah, a pilgrimage with notably lower costs compared to Hajj, has also influenced the decline in Hajj registrations. 

"This has led to a surge in interest among many people opting for Umrah to save costs," explained Shahadat Hossain, underscoring the growing interest among devotees in the alternative pilgrimage.

However, a deeper concern arises over the suspected nexus behind the soaring package rates. A previous investigation uncovered a possible collaboration among top officials of the Religious Affairs Ministry, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and two foreign airlines, Saudia and Flynas. Despite court intervention, the syndicate appears to persist, citing a purported dollar crisis as justification for the escalating costs.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines, often at the centre of scrutiny over airfare monopolies, faced allegations of failing to reduce ticket prices. HAAB blamed Biman for the unreasonably high fares. 

Biman CEO Shafiul Azim addressed the matter, stating: "We deal with only the airfare out of 15 Hajj items. The remaining items are determined and dealt with by HAAB, which can reduce other costs easily."

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