Hajj 2021: Tour Operators Fear Rs 30 Crore Losses, 2500 Lay-Offs

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Srinagar: The tour operators offering Hajj and Umrah services to pilgrims in Kashmir are staring at an estimated loss of Rs 30 crore besides over two thousand lay-offs as coronavirus pandemic continues to cast shadow over the conduct of annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca for the second consecutive year.

“Usually these one or two months before the Hajj pilgrimage, our companies used to make enough money to last for a year. But since 2020, we have earned nothing.” Umer Nazir, the CEO of Labaika Hajj and Umrah Services told Kashmir Observer on Monday.

“If things continue the same way, many staffers would be laid-off,” he added.

As soon as the Hajj Committee of India informed the private Hajj and Umrah companies to prepare for this year's Hajj pilgrimage, many faces flared-up with exhilaration but that too added to their woes.

“In Kashmir, around 8000 pilgrims have registered themselves for this year's pilgrimage, but unfortunately none of them are registered through private agencies. Undoubtedly, this year too our business/s is going to suffer losses.” Nazir said.

J&K Association of Hajj and Umrah Companies (JKAHUC), an association representing around 200 major Hajj & Umrah companies, projects a loss of around 2500 jobs and approximately 30 crores losses in the revenue if the Covid coerces companies to maintain a jammed wheel this year.

On April 6, 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced new guidelines for this year's pilgrimage. As per the guidelines the total number of pilgrims for this year's Hajj was capped down to 60,000 out of which 15,000 are domestic pilgrims while the world quota is set-up at 45,000.

Umer, like many of his counterparts, is lobbying the J&K administration to offer support to the Hajj and Umrah service providers saying that these potential crises bring real and profound miseries to hundreds of employees and their families.

“There are chances that India may get a quota for around 3000 pilgrims for this year’s Hajj and out of that Kashmir may hardly get 600-800 seats and all of them will be travelling through Government quota.” He said, adding “If rumours are to be believed then Indian Hajj Committee has decided to cancel 2021 quota of private Hajj and Umrah agencies.”

Abdul Salaam, Executive Officer J&K Hajj Committee said that they haven’t received any information from the Hajj Committee of India regarding the number of pilgrims from Kashmir that will be allowed to perform this year’s pilgrimage.

“The selection process will commence as soon as we receive any communique from the Central Hajj Committee,” Salaam told Kashmir Observer.

On May 28, a JKAHUC delegation met Lieutenant Governor’s advisor, Baseer Ahmed Khan and informed him about their “augmenting miseries”, including the huge financial losses and layoffs. In the same meeting, the advisor had assured these distressed agents with a relief package, that would not only help them to restart their businesses but will also help them to evade laying-off their staff.

Talking to Kashmir Observer Mohammad Saleem Jabbar, Media Secretary JKAHUC said, “Since the early outbreak of Covid-19 followed by the subsequent lockdowns, the 200 companies registered under JKAHUC have suffered a massive loss. This has forced many companies to sack their employees as it was impossible for them to pay salaries,”

During their meet with LG’s advisor, Jabbar said the delegation informed him about the vicious uncertainty for their companies’ future and the blow to the general business activity caused by the incessant lockdowns.

“The delegation has requested the administration to provide soft loans to the Hajj and Umrah companies for a term of 5-10 years, rather than providing the relief packages which the administration is presently discussing.” Jabbar said

“These soft-loans are the only pavement towards a position where we can evade laying-off our staff and will also help us to revive our businesses,” he added.

Amid the lockdown, unlike other states of India, the J&K administration hasn’t made any request to the landlords for waiving off the monthly rents of their tenants in wake of the present crisis and the brunt of which is being suffered by these companies.

“During the 2020 lockdown, many state governments made a request to the landlords for waiving-off rents but unfortunately our administration hasn’t made any such request to the landlords. If the J&K administration comes up with something like that, it will help us to restart our jammed business.” Jabbar said.

Behind each one of these members of the industry is a personal story of financial losses, dreams dashed, families uprooted and, in some cases many are about to shut-down their companies.

“These crises were surely unprecedented but the lamentation that followed are shocking. The situation is such that there is no information either from the State Haj committee or the Central Haj Committee, whatever piece of information we are receiving it’s just through some contacts,” says the CEO of Labaika Hajj and Umrah services

“It is just a shocker to daily receive rumours that the private industry for Hajj and Umrah services may not be given quota for next 5 years as the Saudi authorities are believed to follow the same strict Hajj SOPs for next few years,” he adds.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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