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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightExtortion in Haj

Extortion in Haj fares

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Extortion in Haj fares
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Kozhikode International Airport (file image)

India is one of the countries with the largest number of Muslims in the world. Central and State Hajj Committees are responsible for making their Hajj pilgrimage smooth and spiritually fulfilling. For the past few years, the central government has been directly controlling the activities of these Hajj committees through the Ministry of Minorities. It would be a relief if the Hajj's facilities and Hajj journeys had become easier through it. But what has happened is that the Hajj has become expensive and difficult, opening new doors of exploitation. The latest example is the decision to charge twice as much for Hajj travel from Kozhikode airport. The committee members and those responsible who should question this now prefer to remain silent. On the other hand, Central Committee Chairman AP Abdullakutty, instead of taking the initiative to solve the problem, has chosen to ridicule those who raise the problem and makes a mockery of himself.

Only airlines in India and Saudi Arabia can legally participate in the tender to provide flight services for Hajj. Air India was taking advantage of the fact that Saudi Airlines did not issue a quotation for this year's Hajj service as Kozhikode has restrictions on large aircraft, although airlines of both countries could submit tenders to the Ministry of Aviation, the Saudi Airline Company submitted a fare of Rs 88,772 for Kannur and Rs 89,188 for Kochi, while Air India's fare for Kozhikode was Rs 1,64,000. There is no justification for this exorbitant rate by any standard of civil aviation. The Central Hajj Committee Chairman came out with his mockery when such great injustice and flagrant discrimination against the Muslim community had taken place. The majority of the Hajj applicants from Kerala have given Karipur as their preferred airport this time. If the exorbitant air fares are maintained, then Kochi or Kannur is the only option for the pilgrims. It will create hardships for them and their relatives and in addition the Hajj camp at Karipur and related facilities will become redundant. Even though Kozhikode plays a crucial role in making Air India Express profitable, the rationale behind making Kozhikode itself the centre of such massive exploitation is puzzling. Such misdeeds fuel the suspicion that there are conspiracies behind it to destroy one of the country's most profitable airports.

After the 2020 plane crash, which was found to be a human error by the Commission of Inquiry, the Centre says it can allow large aircraft only after completing the construction of the RESA (Runway End Safety Areas), although all the procedures and safety instructions for resuming the service have been accomplished conforming to all the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. In January 2021, world-class airlines Saudi Airlines, Air India, Qatar Airways and Emirates informed the Centre of their willingness to resume large flight services and have completed safety checks. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation unilaterally denied them permission to operate the service. Taking these antecedents into perspective, the attempt to charge unfair fares from Haj pilgrims has to be seen as part of the Centre's continued discriminatory approach towards the Kozhikode airport. If exploiting a people's spiritual journey is to belittle that community, choking to death a region's airport using power is tantamount to denigrating the entire population of that region. Therefore, there needs to be effective protests to bring down the exorbitant airfares. That is necessary not only to end the exorbitant fare hike for the Haj pilgrims but also to restore the self-respect of the Karipur airport and the people.

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TAGS:Air IndiaHajEditorialCivil Aviation MinistryAirfareKaripur airport
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