Emphasising on a “cashless Haj”, the government has made special arrangements to meet the foreign exchange requirements of those going on the annual pilgrimage, including the issuance of a forex card through the State Bank of India (SBI).
The Ministry of Minority Affairs has taken several initiatives to make Haj 2023 more comfortable, convenient and affordable for Indian Muslims, according to an official statement.
Dedicated efforts have also been made to make the process of pilgrim selection objective, transparent, efficient, timely and free from human involvement.
The process of applying for Haj and selection of pilgrims was carried out online and of the 1.84 lakh applicants, 14,935 have been given assured allotment, including 10,621 in the 70-plus category and 4,314 women who will perform the Haj without a “Mehram” (male companion).
This is the largest ever contingent of women proceeding on Haj alone, not accompanied by men, the ministry said in a statement.
The applications received over and above the Haj quota have been finalised through an online randomised digital selection (ORDS) process, without any human intervention, it added.
For the first time, the list of selected and waitlisted applicants was published on the official portal immediately after the selection process in the interest of increased transparency, the statement said.
All 1.4 lakh selected pilgrims have been sent a text message with the information of their selection for Haj 2023. A text message has also been sent to the waitlisted applicants, informing them about their position on the list, the statement said.
The ministry has partnered with the SBI to make special arrangements to provide foreign exchange to the pilgrims.
Unlike previous years, when each pilgrim was given 2,100 Saudi riyals by the Haj Committee of India in lieu of Indian currency, irrespective of his actual requirements, the Haj Policy 2023 gives the option to the pilgrims to arrange their own foreign currency or take a lesser amount of foreign exchange, according to their requirements.
The government has collaborated with the SBI to ensure the supply of foreign exchange to the pilgrims at the most competitive rates, the statement said.
With more than 22,000 branches across the country, the SBI shall facilitate providing foreign exchange and the mandatory insurance to all the pilgrims to meet their requirements during their stay in Saudi Arabia.
The bank will reach out to the pilgrims through text messages, the ministry said.
The facility of a forex card is also being provided to the pilgrims, eliminating the possibility of theft or loss of physical currency, it added.
In case the card is lost during the pilgrimage, the pilgrim can get his money refunded from the bank.
An official said the government’s aim is to support a “cashless Haj” to make it convenient for the pilgrims.
The SBI will also set up stalls at all the embarkation points with dedicated nodal officers of an appropriate level to help the pilgrims collect the foreign exchange in cash or through the forex card and also to provide any guidance and assistance as may be required.
A helpline shall be operated by the SBI and the contact details of these nodal officers will be made public soon, the statement said.
For the present year, a quota of 1,75,025 Haj pilgrims has been allotted to India. The first flight for the pilgrimage from India will take off on May 21. The annual pilgrimage will take place around June end.