State Hajj Committees against Air India but can HCI act?

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi & Tariq Anwar

New Delhi: Fresh from the troubles faced by Hajis during the last Hajj, thanks particularly to the mismanagement of Air India, state Haj Committees have begun pressing Haj Committee of India (HCI), and through it the central government, to replace the airliner.

Spearheading movement against the monopoly of national carrier, the Uttar Pradesh Haj Committee has decided to change its loyalties from Air India to Saudi Airlines for sending pilgrims to Jeddah. This they did due to the step-motherly treatment of Hajis by the Air India. As nearly 30,000 pilgrims undertake Hajj pilgrimage every year from the state, the decision may cause a revenue loss of around Rs 50 crore to the national carrier.

The state Haj Committee has sent a letter to HCI and the Government of India in this regard, making it clear that because of misbehaviour and misconduct of the airline staff with Hajj pilgrims, its services will not be availed at any cost, Mohammad Jawed Khan, deputy secretary of the UP Haj Committee has been quoted saying in the media. correspondents in New Delhi and Patna contacted state Haj Committees to know their stand on the issue. Though they are also not happy with the performance of Air India, they could not gather courage to take a decision like one by UP Haj Committee.
A Delhi Haj Committee official, on the condition of anonymity, said they are not happy with the national carrier but have no power to bring any drastic change. They are governed by HCI and such policy matters can be handled by it. HCI too alone cannot replace airliner; it has to request the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs and Civil Aviation Ministry to change the carrier, the official said.

Similar view was echoed by Bihar Haj Committee. Talking to, Zainul Abedin, Chief Executive Officer of Bihar Haj Committee, said they had sent all reports regarding problems faced by the pilgrims this year, to HCI. He said the state Haj Committee was not free to take any decision on the matter. When asked whether they have sent any proposal to HCI to hire Saudi Airlines or any other airlines in place of Air India, he said, “We can’t send proposal like this.” He, however, hoped that HCI will seek services of some other carrier this year. Till then, Air India is responsible to carry pilgrims from Bihar.

Several attempts to contact HCI CEO Mohammad Owais in Mumbai failed. to know HCI’s stand on the issue and its future strategy to avert problems faced by Hajis this year.

Many Hajis have made complaints against Air India. One of them is that the airliner did not allow Haj pilgrims to bring back Zam Zam water. While the Saudi Airlines carries the water free of cost Air India charges it as extra baggage. Other complaints included poor quality of meals served during the flight and misbehavior of some airline staffers.