The Ministry of Religious Affairs has fixed Tk418,500 for hajj package 1 and Tk344,000 for hajj package 2
Ticketing agencies have been charging Tk15,000 to Tk30,000 extra for each ticket sold to hajj pilgrims, despite strict action by law enforcement agencies and warning from the Religious Affairs Ministry.
A total of 127,198 pilgrims will perform hajj this year. Of them, 120,000 pilgrims will go with hajj packages under private management, and 7,198 will go under government management.
To reduce the cost of pilgrimage, the government has reduced the airfare by Tk10,000 for each ticket, and fixed a price of Tk128,000, according to the Religion Affairs Ministry.
Though the government has fixed the air ticket prices, some unscrupulous agencies have been charging an extra amount of Tk15,000 toTk30,000 per ticket for the pilgrims.
Requesting anonymity, a member of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), who has been working in this field for more than three decades, told Dhaka Tribune that each year, the agencies profit at least Tk100 crore by charging the pilgrims extra for plane tickets.
He said: “This year, the agencies are charging a minimum of Tk15,000 and maximum of Tk30,000 extra for every ticket. At this rate, the ticketing agencies are going to make TK180 crore to Tk360 crore extra from pilgrims performing hajj under private management.
“The figure will not be less than Tk200 crore.”
He said the ministry itself appoints two or three agencies to provide tickets to the pilgrims who will perform hajj under government management.
Receiving allegation from several stakeholders against the hajj agencies, a mobile court of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), led by magistrate Sarwar Alam, conducted raids at several agencies in the capital’s Nayapaltan area on Tuesday.
During the drive, the mobile court found proof of the allegations and fined Tk10 lakh each to Hasem Air International, Challengers Travels and Tours, Golden Bengal Tours and Travels, and Al Gazi Travels, while Sunshine Express Travels Incorporation and Dhaka Shahjalal Travels were fined Tk20 lakh and Tk5 lakh respectively.
Sarwar Alam said the agencies created an artificial crisis of tickets and convinced the pilgrims to pay extra.
“These agencies have been selling each ticket starting from Tk150,000 to Tk160,000,” the magistrate added.
An agreement between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia stipulates that the national airlines of the two countries will transport the pilgrims equally. This year, Saudi Arabian Airlines will carry 63,599 pilgrims, and Biman Bangladesh Airlines will fly the rest.
According to ministry sources, each of the agencies were allotted 300 Saudia tickets, and they are not allowed to sell more than that.
During Tuesday's drive, the mobile court seized more than 13,000 tickets of Saudi Airlines from Sunshine Express Travels Incorporation. It also found that a total of 4,800 tickets were sold by Hasem Air International, 1,600 tickets by Challengers travels, and 3,708 tickets by Golden Bengal Tours and Travels.
However, Abdullah Arif Mohammad, senior assistant secretary (hajj-1) of Religion Affairs Ministry, claimed that there is no scope of charging extra money for air tickets.
When asked about the drives and fines by RAB, Abdullah said he was not aware of any such incident.
On Wednesday, he told Dhaka Tribune over phone that the ministry gets tickets directly from Biman for pilgrims travelling under government management.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Religious Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah said the government is trying to reduce the cost for pilgrims. “Government has reduced airfare by around Tk10,198 this year,” he said.
He added that the government has a plan to stop some agencies’ monopoly ticket business by permitting a third carrier for hajj flights from next year.
He assured that the government will take strict action against the hajj agencies that charge extra for airfare.
According to the ministry, pilgrims will have to pay some additional money this year as Saudi Arabia has hiked service charges.
The state minister said that the cost under package 1 has gone up by Tk20,571 from last year.
Moreover, the Saudi government has increased different costs, including a service charge that has increased the price by Tk24,980.
According to National Hajj and Umrah Policy-2019 and Hajj Package-2019, the ministry fixed Tk418,500 for hajj package 1, and Tk344,000 for hajj package 2 this year.
Last year, the cost for package 1 was Tk397,929, while package 2 cost Tk319,355.