Imam Hossain, the proprietor of a pharmacy near Mitford Hospital in Old Dhaka, had decided three years ago to make the pilgrimage to Makkah in 2023, one of the must-dos for able Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
He paid Tk 32,000 for pre-registration and thought that in three years, he would be able to accumulate the bulk portion for the charges. As of 2023, Imam saved over Tk 450,000 for the endeavour.
However, his dream took a hit when the government released the expenditure chart for Hajj.
The pilgrimage will now cost him close to around Tk 150,000 more than he has amassed, excluding charges for Quarbani, a ritual of sacrificing Halal animals at the rear end of Hajj proceedings.
With the Qurbani charges, the amount will cross Tk 200,000.
For a small business owner like Imam, the hike was a significant shock and put him in a bind.
“My pharmacy is small, and a major portion of the revenue goes to my family’s expenditure. Last year when I saw the minimum Hajj package was Tk 527,000, I thought this year it wouldn’t increase by more than Tk 50,000. I was planning to borrow Tk 100,000 from my business account. However, I can’t withdraw Tk 250,000 at a time from my business. That’ll ruin me completely,” he said.
Retired schoolteacher Shah Alam from Chandpur’s Kochua, who was preparing to perform Hajj this year, is on the same boat.
“I can’t even believe that the package price rose this much. Not sure how I can pull this off,” he said.
He even joked that perhaps the olden days are coming back when only rich people could perform Hajj due to the sky-high expenses, and people from the neighbourhood would come to greet them before departure and after the return.
This year, people registered to perform Hajj under government management will have to pay Tk 683,018. Last year, the government offered two packages - package 1 cost Tk 586,340 while package 2 cost Tk 521,150.
Under private management, the minimum package would cost a pilgrim Tk 672,618, excluding Qurbani charges. It was Tk 5,22,744 last year.
Mohammad Anwar Hossain, senior information officer at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, only offered a partial explanation for the hike in package prices under government management.
“People are miscalculating. If you check the previous year’s prices, the package price only rose to around Tk 100,000,” he said.
BREAKDOWN OF CHARGES
There are four categories of tents at Saudi Arabia’s Mina, the main centre of the Hajj ritual, and the Bangladesh government selected category ‘C’ for Bangladeshi pilgrims, irrespective of management.
Tent rent is Tk 160,630
The total cost of Hajj rituals, including service charges and rent, is Tk 432,186.
Airfare is Tk 197,797.
CHARGES DROPPED, CHARGES UP
After breaking down the charges, Anwar confirmed bdnews24.com that, in actuality, costs had gone down in three categories compared to last year.
“Rent for places to stay in Mecca and Medina dropped around Tk 10,060 while coach fares for internal travelling within the kingdom and travel insurance fee dropped to Tk 7,473 and Tk 1,726.
So, which charges have gone up?
The ministry and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh, or HAAB, which coordinates with the ministry to fix package prices under private management, highlighted three charges that shot up quite a bit.
Airfare has gone up to Tk 197,797, which was Tk 140,000 last year.
Services charges for Moallems, essentially guides who travel with the pilgrims to advise and help, have gone up to Tk 99, 334.
The devaluation of the Bangladeshi taka against Saudi currency would cost the pilgrims Tk 62,484 extra as the government has to pay in riyal.
FACTS AND FIGURES ABOUT HAJJ AND PILGRIMS FROM BANGLADESH
Hajj rituals will kick off on June 27, depending on the moon-sighting.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is allowing 127,198 pilgrims to perform Hajj this year
Of the total, 15,000 people have registered to take government-managed service while the rest will go for the pilgrimage under private management.
The kingdom waived the age limit of 65 for this year
The pre-arrival immigration process will be completed at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, which authorities believe will reduce some hassles for the pilgrims
THE AGE-OLD AIRFARE QUESTION
M Shahadat Hossain Taslim, president of HAAB, accused airliners of charging considerably more during Hajj season.
“The current return airfare to the kingdom is below Tk 100,000. If they [airliners] wanted to, they could have charged less during Hajj season, which would have helped the pilgrims,” he said.
In reply, authorities at Biman Bangladesh Airlines, one of the three carriers which will provide air travel service for the pilgrims, said that since it is a “dedicated service”, the flights, after dropping off the passengers, do not take any passengers from Jeddah or Riyadh and return to the point of departure in Bangladesh empty, which is why they charge more to cover the additional fuel and service costs.
The two other dedicated airliners for Bangladeshi pilgrims are Saudia and Flynas airlines.
[Writing in English and infographic created by Adil Mahmood]