Saudi Arabia slashes number of Haj pilgrims by 20%
Riyadh: Saudi Arabia has slashed the number of Hajj pilgrims, including from India, by 20 per cent this year, citing massive ongoing construction work aimed at expanding grand Mecca mosque as a reason behind the decision.
"The decision to reduce the numbers of pilgrims at home by 50 per cent and abroad by 20 per cent is exceptional and temporary until the completion of the expansionist projects at the Holy Sites," Saudi Minister of Hajj Bandar bin Mohammed Hajjar was today quoted as saying by Saudi news agency SPA.
During a meeting with the first channel of Saudi television yesterday, Hajjar said the numbers of pilgrims are linked to previous agreements providing for 1,000 pilgrims for one million of the total population of countries.
As per the Haj agreement signed with Saudi Arabia, India`s quota for Haj-2012 was 170,000. The decision to slash the quota, if implemented, would reduce the number of Indian pilgrims this year.
Many countries like Egypt have decided to send their envoys to Saudi Arabia to request Riyadh to re-consider the decision to reduce the number of pilgrims to Mecca and Medina.
Hajjar said the expansion projects of the grand mosque in Mecca will add 400,000 square meters to the current area to accommodate 2.2 million worshippers, the Jamarat Bridge from 6 to 12 floors to accommodate 5 million pilgrims per day.
The Prophet`s mosque in Medina will add 1.6 million pilgrims to accommodate more than two million worshippers, the news agency said.
Hajjar indicated the expansion projects are associated with tunnels in the mountains linking the grand mosque with Mina and neighbourhoods of Mecca, noting that there are 54 tunnels with length of 30 kilometres and width ranging from 11 to 15 meters, in addition to pedestrians` tunnels.
He said the projects include public transport comprising of train, metro and all means of transport, pointing to the allocation of Saudi Rial 62 billion for these projects.
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