India fully digitizes Hajj process

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten welcomed India’s Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in the presence of Ambassador Ausaf Sayeed and Consul General Noor Rahman Sheikh in Jeddah. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 02 December 2019

India fully digitizes Hajj process

  • Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi: This will ensure that Indian pilgrims get information about the building and room allotted to them, as well as transportation details within Saudi Arabia
  • During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in February this year, the country’s Hajj quota was increased from 170,000 to 200,000 for the year 2020

NEW DELHI: India has become the first country in the world to entirely digitize the Hajj application process.

“This will ensure that Indian pilgrims get information in India about the building and room allotted to them, as well as transportation details for travel after reaching the airport in Saudi Arabia,” India’s Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said after signing an agreement with Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten in Jeddah on Sunday.

The E-Medical Assistance System for Indian Pilgrims Abroad (e-Masiha) has been created “to deal with any emergency in Makkah and Madinah,” Naqvi added.

It is an online system to create and maintain a complete health database of Indian pilgrims along with doctors’ prescriptions, medical treatment and medicine disbursal.

“This is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign,” Naqvi said, thanking the Saudi government for playing “an active and effective role in ensuring the safety of, and better facilities for, Indian pilgrims.”

This “has strengthened bilateral relations between the two countries,” which “have achieved newer heights under the leadership and guidance of King Salman … and Prime Minister Modi,” Naqvi added.

During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India in February this year, the country’s Hajj quota was increased from 170,000 to 200,000 for the year 2020.

The digitization of the Hajj process has received mixed reactions in India, with some calling it a step toward transparency, and others calling it impractical.

“No doubt the digitization is for transparency with the pilgrimage. It will also help with better coordination,” Habibullah Ansari, 65, who is planning to perform Hajj in 2020, told Arab News.

“But the problem is that most of the people going for Hajj aren’t literate, and they’re from rural and semi-rural areas and are digitally challenged,” he said.

“The government should keep the offline process open also. In my case, my nephew is helping out in filling the digital form.”

Sahil Akram, from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said: “Two years ago when I went on Hajj with my parents, the whole process was tiresome. I hope the digitization brings much-needed transparency and helps in the smooth facilitation of the Hajj pilgrimage.”

Zafarul Islam, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, welcomed the digitization, but said he is “apprehensive about its success as two-thirds of the people applying for the Hajj quota are semi-illiterate or illiterate.”

He added: “I know many people who are facing problems in registering themselves this time because of the digitization.”

He said: “I’ll suggest that the offline process should be available for those who aren’t well-versed with computers. Otherwise agents will have a heyday in this situation.”

New Delhi-based journalist Afroz Alam Sahil, who works for the Urdu-language daily Dawat, told Arab News that while the digitization is much-needed, “agents have started cropping up who charge extra money from illiterate people for filling forms online.”

India has “different categories of Hajj pilgrims,” he said. “Suppose you fill a form in a category where you aren’t entitled, then villagers will have a tough time getting their money back ... They don’t know how money is transferred digitally. People should have the option of filling the form online and offline.”


Malaysia to work with UNICEF on polio vaccination in Sabah state

Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Malaysia to work with UNICEF on polio vaccination in Sabah state

  • An infant was diagnosed with polio a few days ago for the first time since 1992
  • Authorities said the polio strain shared genetic links with the virus detected earlier in the Philippines
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s health authorities on Sunday said they are working with UNICEF to bring polio vaccines to the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, where the country’s first polio case in nearly three decades was detected last week.
A three-month-old infant was diagnosed with polio on Dec. 6 after being admitted to hospital with a fever and muscle weakness, the first such case since 1992.
It comes after the Philippines, north of Borneo, reported its first cases of polio since 1993 in September.
Malaysia’s health ministry had said the child was infected with a polio strain that shared genetic links with the virus detected in the Philippines.
“We are planning to work with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to get vaccine supply at a low cost for an immunization program for non-citizen children in Sabah,” Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
Noor Hisham said the plan is to have UNICEF subsidize the cost of the vaccines, and to administer the vaccinations with the help of selected non-governmental organizations and the Philippines government.
No new cases have been detected so far, though authorities are still waiting for the results of stool samples taken from people who had close contact with the infant and the surrounding area where the child lived, Noor Hisham said.
“The health ministry would like to stress that the best way to eradicate polio is through immunization. Contagious diseases such as polio know no boundaries,” Noor Hisham said.