Paving way for the Centre to make available a cheaper mode of transport for Haj pilgrims, Saudi Arabia has given its nod to India's plan to revive the option of ferrying devotees to Jeddah via sea route, 23 years after the practice was stopped.
Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed the development in a statement after he and Saudi Arabia's Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten signed a bilateral annual agreement regarding the pilgrimage in Mecca yesterday.
Terming his meeting with Benten "very fruitful", Naqvi said officials from both the countries will discuss the technicalities involved so that the pilgrimage via sea route can be commissioned in the coming years.
"Saudi Arabia has given its nod to revive the option of sending pilgrims by sea route... Officials from both the countries will discuss all the necessary formalities and technicalities so that Haj pilgrimage through sea route can be started in the coming years," the statement quoted Naqvi as saying.
The "revolutionary, pro-poor and pilgrim-friendly" decision of sending devotees through sea route will help cut down travel expenses "significantly", Naqvi said.
Naqvi said with the availability of modern and well- equipped ships -- which can ferry 4,000 to 5,000 persons at a time -- the 2,300-odd nautical miles one-side distance between Mumbai and Jeddah can now be covered within just three to four days.
"Woman Haj assistants will be deployed for them," he said, adding more than 1,300 women have applied to go for Haj without 'Mehram' and of them will be exempted from lottery system and allowed to proceed for the pilgrimage.
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