Government ends subsidy on Hajj scheme as minister walks out | Pakistan Today

Government ends subsidy on Hajj scheme as minister walks out

–Federal cabinet approves Hajj Policy 2019

–Approves new visa regime to promote tourism

–PM lauds services of interior minister, interior secretary

–Fawad says govt introducing bill for journalists’ protection

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday approved the Hajj Policy 2019 and directed the religious affairs ministry to provide optimum facilities to intending pilgrims who wish to perform their sacred religious obligation through the government Hajj scheme.

Briefing the media about the decisions taken in the cabinet meeting, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that this year the Hajj package would cost 436, 575 for northern residents and Rs426,575 for the southern residents. The charges are exclusive of the costs for qurbani (animal sacrifice) services. For those opting to avail qurbani services, the costs go up by Rs20,000 per category. Therefore, for northern residents, the package will cost Rs456,975 and for southern residents, it will come to Rs446,975.

He said that for the first time, pilgrims from Balochistan would be airlifted directly from Quetta, adding that a temporary Hajji Camp was also being established for pilgrims from Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). He said that 184,210 Pakistanis would perform pilgrimage this year, including the 10,000 seats reserved for senior citizens who would secure their berth in the Hajj scheme without balloting and the 1.5 per cent quota reserved to accommodate hardship cases.

The government has ended subsidy on Hajj, Fawad said. During the meeting, some federal ministers opposed the proposal of a government subsidy in the Hajj policy for the ongoing year. The religious affairs ministry had proposed a subsidy of Rs45,000 per pilgrim but  other ministers at the meeting argued against the proposal saying, “Those who are financially able should perform Hajj, those who are unable should not go.” Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri then walked out of the cabinet meeting when the subsidy was not approved and postponed a news conference scheduled to take place following the meeting.

Thursday’s meeting was the first time the Hajj policy was not announced by the religious affairs minister and was instead conveyed briefly through a routine press conference held by the Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

Talking about the meeting, Fawad said that the federal cabinet also approved a new policy of granting visa-on-arrival facilities to 50 countries and an additional provision of e-visas to citizens of 175 countries. He added that business visa has been expanded to 98 countries and a simple and easy procedure has been adopted. Journalist visa scheme has been deferred for the time being and it will be announced after coordination of information ministry with the interior ministry, he further said. Pakistan Today has learnt that foreigners would be allowed to visit all areas of Pakistan except the strategic zones and areas within ten miles of Pakistan’s missiles for which they would need to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC). Sources revealed during that Prime Minister Imran Khan lauded the services and hard work done by Interior Minister Shehryar Khan Afridi and Secretary Interior Major (r) Azam Suleiman for their sheer hard work and dedication to finalise this policy.

Revealing the details of the cabinet meeting, Fawad said that Finance Minister Asad Umar briefed the cabinet about the status of the national economy. He said that when the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government came into power, it inherited the economy in critical condition. The cabinet was informed that the country collects Rs 5,571 billion tax per annum out of which Rs 2,000 billion is needed to pay interests of loans. He said that 84 per cent debt had increased during the tenure of previous two governments in the past ten years. He also said that the federal government used to collect more taxes before the enactment of the 18th Amendment but now out of every Rs10 collected through taxes and non-tax resources, Rs6 go to provinces.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has changed the country’s foreign policy in only six months altogether. The ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had visited the country after 12 long years and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is due this month. Pakistan played an important role in the dialogue between Washington and Taliban, and if the talks conclude positively, the entire region would benefit from peace in Afghanistan, he said. He said that now United States was following the approach of PM Khan who had always advocated dialogue for resolution of the Afghanistan issue as he believed that issues could not be resolved through wars.

He said that Prime Minister’s Task Force on Civil Reforms Chairman Dr Ishrat Hussain presented his report on institutional reforms. The preliminary findings of the task force included amending the rules of business so that powers concentrated in Prime Minister’s Office should be devolved to ministries, he added.

As many as 43 organisations had been declared redundant which would be disbanded in phases. The report also suggested Civil Service reforms, including specialisation. The system of ACR, the concept of superior services, he said, would be changed in phases.

Fawad said that the cabinet also approved the appointment of the chairman of the Port Qasim Authority, the Pak-Libya Holding Company and the managing director of the National Investment Trust Limited (NITL).

The cabinet also approved the transfer of Karachi Infrastructure and Development Company Limited (KIDCL) from Communications Division to Cabinet Division, so that the prime minister could directly monitor its implementation status, he added.

He also said that the rules for the appointment of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Deputy Governor Jamil Ahmed were also be approved by the cabinet.

Fawad said that an additional grant was approved for the payment of outstanding stipend dues of interns of Prime Minister’s Youth Training Programme.

To a question, he said that the government was introducing Protection of Journalist’s Bill to protect the rights of the working journalists and one objective of constituting new Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) was to ensure the protection of fraternity.

Earlier this month, Fawad had said that the PTI government had decided to introduce on-arrival visas for 50 countries and e-visas for 175 countries in order to boost the tourism industry in the country. The minister had also explained that work visa to citizens of 96 countries would be granted within 7-10 days after they receive a letter from the Board of Investment. Similarly, diplomatic visas had been extended from one year to three years while student visas had been extended from one to two years. Further, visas granted for religious purposes would be valid for 45 days. The restrictions formerly placed on journalists barring them from travelling to more than three specified cities had also been lifted, Fawad had explained while adding that the information ministry will process their visas.“They can go anywhere in Pakistan, they do not need a NOC anymore,” he had said in reference to the requirement of obtaining NOCs before travelling to Gilgit-Baltistan, Cantonment areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. “We want tourism to be promoted, to become the foundation for change in Pakistan,” the minister had said. The approval for the new visa regime was granted during a meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Mian Abrar

The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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