Religious affairs minister escapes ‘media wrath’

ISLAMABAD: Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf on Friday “escaped” the media’s wrath after he left in the middle of a press conference following blunt queries from the media on the controversial Hajj Policy 2014, which the government has formulated. 
Faced with tough queries regarding the allegations that the commercial banks were fleecing the Hajj applicants in collusion with the government by selling the Hajj forms for up to Rs 20,000 per form, the religious affairs minister struggled to give answers, moments after the start of the briefing. Later, the embarrassed officials of the Religious Affairs Ministry requested the media to “forget the minister’s escape” and urged them to report the event on an “all is well” note. 
For this purpose, the ministry officials shared a press release with the journalists with the request to attribute the details provided in the media release to the minister. According to the press release, Sardar Yousuf has announced the names of 53,814 successful applicants of government Hajj scheme selected on first come, first served basis. “The ministry will monitor the activities of pilgrims according to the agreement, and the actions would be taken against the violators,” it said.
The minister said this procedure has led to the approval of 53,814 applications out of a total of 127,586 applications. He said the cost of travelling, accommodation and food offered for the pilgrims is less than that being incurred by the private tour operators. It was briefed that the banks involved in irregularities were investigated and those found guilty were dismissed. The minister rejected the allegations regarding the embezzlement during the distribution of Hajj forms by the banks, he said the ministry would investigate the matter.
Yousaf asked the winning Hajj candidates to deposit their machine-readable passports by June 10 with the respective banks. For the losing candidates it was declared that they can retrieve their sums from their banks. The minister said the Hajj Policy 2014 was announced on April 9 this year soon after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved its proposed draft. The application forms for pilgrims were received by six banks with 6,500 branches all over Pakistan, he added.
The minister said 50 percent of Hajj pilgrims will land in Madina Munawara and 50 percent in Jeddah. He said the Pakistani Hujjaj mostly reside in Azizya because it is near Mina and Arafat. The minister said the government has requested provision of Pakistani food to Hujjaj in Saudi Arabia. He said Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia would be engaged to facilitate the pilgrims during Hajj. Sardar Yousuf said that according to the Hajj Policy 2014, anyone who has performed Hajj during the last five years has not be eligible for pilgrimage this year except for those people who will be going as mehram or those performing “Hajj-e-Badal”.

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