How lax rules allow tour operators to take pilgrims for a ride, literally

President of the association, Sheikh Feroz said “it is highly shameful and disgrace to the community that people who are not authorized to facilitate hajj pilgrimage are taking money from people. “

All he had prayed for was a chance to undertake the noble journey to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to perform the Hajj. It all seemed to have come through when on depositing Rs 12 lakh with a tour operator Bashir Ahmad was told that he and his other family members should ready themselves to make the pilgrimage.

But hours before he and his family members were to begin the travel they were told by the tour operator that they can’t go because the Ministry of External Affair had not allotted the tour operator slots for pilgrims. All the while, Ahmad didn’t know the tour operator didn’t have the authorization to take people on the Hajj. It was nothing short of betrayal by the tour operator.

However, Ahmad is not alone there are around 400 people wishing to make the pilgrimage who have been cheated by several hajj and umrah service providers in Kashmir as they didn’t have the requisite permission from the MEA.

“I along with my family members paid Rs 12 lakh to the company in February along with passports; we were told that we have to leave for pilgrimage in the month of August. But at the last moment, they informed us that they have not got permission from the MEA to facilitate pilgrimage,” he said.

Ahmad who was accompanied by another pilgrim said that the government should take strict action against these companies. “They are playing with faith. It created social embarrassment as well as mental agony for us and there was no fault of ours.”

Ahmad and scores of other people who were taken for a ride thronged office of Jammu and Kashmir Hajj and Umrah tour operators association – which is an amalgam of all agencies offering Hajj and Umrah services in the state. The duped pilgrims were seeking refund of deposited amount as well as the return of passports.

President of the association, Sheikh Feroz said “it is highly shameful and disgrace to the community that people who are not authorized to facilitate hajj pilgrimage are taking money from people. “ 

“ We have given ultimatum to defaulting agencies that if they won’t return money back to people, we will name and shame them and blacklist them from our association,” he said adding that only six tour operators were alloted quota by the MEA for Hajj 2018.

Feroz said that this cheating is giving bad name to outbound pilgrimage sector. A senior government official on condition of anonymity stated that divisional administration had issued list of agencies that were given quota by the centre government.

“People have to be cautious before paying money to Hajj and umrah service providers. It is not the first time that people have been duped, but it seems that we as a society haven’t learnt lesson from the past,” he said adding that the police has been asked to take action against the tour agents cheating people.

The Divisional Administration Kashmir on June 19 cautioned the public against the operations of unregistered Tour Operators who are luring the gullible people for Hajj booking.

“It has come to the notice of the office of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir that some unregistered Tour Operators are luring general public and have started Hajj bookings inspite of not being approved by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs to do the same, which tantamount to deceiving the masses,” said a statement

It had stated only six tour operators in Kashmir have been approved by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India for making Hajj bookings for the year 2018.

These tour operators, according to the statement include, Al-Khuddam Hajj & Umrah Services, Universal Travel Corporation, Behreen Travels, Al-Huda Travels, Al-Hayat Hajj & Umrah Services and Gazi Tour & Travels.