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.”